I came across an interesting article today in The Independent entitled “Broaden your horizons with international study” with a sub-title of “Venturing overseas to get a degree makes you attractive to employers – and it’s fun”. Before reading the article I decided that this article would serve as the basis of today’s IHEC Blog post.
The article discusses the mobility of UK students and provides some very interesting data points recently released by the British Council. I won’t summarize the data or other themes of the article for you here as you should read it for yourself as I think it is a very good article.
What surprised me was that the “and it's fun!” part of the sub-title was never mentioned in the article at all. I was fully expecting to read that one should go and study abroad because it is a fun thing to do and you can put the experience on your resume and market it as an advantage over other applicants who have not studied abroad. Why then did the author feel the need to include this in the sub-title of the article?
This leads me to the real point of this post…I was an exchange student in Rosenheim, Germany during the summers between my sophomore (2nd) and junior (3rd) years of high school and again during my senior (4th) year of high school and my freshman (1st) year of college. I then studied abroad in Valladolid, Spain during the spring semester my junior year in college followed by a month of backpacking around Europe. Did I have fun during my two high school exchange experiences and while I studied abroad…Oh Yes I Certainly Did (details are only known by the participants in the programs!). Did I take my academics seriously while I studied abroad in Spain (Rosenheim was more of a cultural exchange than an academic exchange)? I took my academics as seriously in Spain as I took them while back at my home institution!! I also know that many of my colleagues in the field of international education had fun while studying abroad but it is important to recognize that everyone defines “fun” differently. Have I witnessed international students here in the United States have fun? The answer to that question is…Yes!
I fully support and believe in rigorous education abroad programs (broadly defined) but I also believe that participation in these programs is indeed a fun experience. So how do we as a field go about educating senior administrators, faculty, colleagues, parents and others that the education abroad programs we develop are rich in academic content and value and that it is absolutely okay to have fun while participating? We are not creating longer and glorified spring break trips (at least a significant majority in the field aren’t) and, for the record, I don’t consider my exchange experiences in Rosenheim and my academic experience in Valladolid to be long glorified spring break trips! I must admit, however, that it was an interesting experience to be on a flight from Chicago to Germany when I was 15 and to be able to order a bier with no questions asked (that was in 1986 and it was free back then so I may have had a couple).
What do you think? Did you have fun on an education abroad program?
Photo Credit: Ethan Prater