Why study abroad and what the experience of venturing out might teach you
by Christina Spencer
College is the perfect time to explore your interests and take advantage of every opportunity. It’s the time to find your passions and delve into new relationships.
But what if you could do all these things in another country for a Jan Term, or even a semester? Well, this isn’t just a what-if, it’s a you-can.
So let’s start with a simple question: Why even consider stepping beyond the border?
First, your ability to speak a foreign language will increase exponentially.
“There are certain idioms that you don’t pick up on until you actually go [to a foreign country],” sophomore Sarah Sauter said, who went on a Jan- Term trip to Costa Rica.
Senior Lauren Davies, who studied abroad in Costa Rica for a semester, admitted she was nervous about the language barrier, but she found it to be more of a puzzle that gradually fell into place than a stubborn roadblock.
Both Sauter and Davies agree that language should definitely not be the reason you decide against taking the leap of faith into the unknown.
Assistant professor of international business and management Todd Friends led a Whitworth study abroad trip to China.
“Just yesterday I had [a] student in my office glowing about their international experience from the summer, a student athlete that thought it couldn’t happen,” Friends said. “Their second language ability went from conversational to fluent. The challenge and joy of communicating cross-culturally had clicked.”
How to get started
Hendrick Hall, the intercultural student center, has tons of resources for those seeking an abroad experience. Sue Jackson, director of international education, is available to answer questions and help students make study abroad decisions.
Whitworth has crafted its study abroad programs in such a way to give students the chance to do internships. Whether you do an internship while abroad or just soak up the unfamiliar, the experience is sure to be beneficial.
“It looks very good on your resume because companies are looking to hire people that are adaptable,” Jackson said.
In February there will be a study abroad fair in the HUB Multi-Purpose room where students can get informed about the upcoming trips Whitworth will be providing. Jan Term trips are perfect for those who have never traveled abroad or are not quite ready to dive into multiple months of complete immersion.
But if exploring the unknown sounds exciting, the International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP) are for you. On the website (isep.org), you are able to single out a field of study you are interested in and see the countries with universities that offer that field. Or if you have a specific country in mind, you can simply search that country and explore the opportunities.
It’s important to apply for ISEP by the previous January if you are looking to study abroad in the fall, and the previous August if you are looking to study abroad in the spring.
“I’ve developed amazing relationships with people all across the world,” senior Ryan Knight said, who spent his sophomore year abroad in China through ISEP.
Knight also spent the spring semester of his junior year in Tanzania with a Whitworth group, and he said what distinguished the two trips was that through ISEP you have a lot more freedom to, for example, plan a weekend vacation to another city or country.
What you’ll learn once there
Once abroad, it’s important to have the right mindset. It would be a shame to go to a whole new country and stay holed up in a hotel.
“The most important thing is to experience as much as you can,” said senior Hunter Freeman, who went on the UK semester abroad program through Whitworth.
Freeman said to follow the saying: if you’re going to do something, why not jump in with both feet?
Envision yourself in the country of your choice. Are you willing to go with the flow? Sue Jackson said her goal is for the student to be able to blend in, to culturally and socially assimilate and to make an effort to become a part of the culture.
Studying abroad can definitely be intimidating, but what comes out of the experience is a newfound sense of independent cultural awareness.
“Studying abroad for a semester will triple the value of everything you’ve learned. The experience transforms the depth of your global view,” Friends said. “It’s no longer the world your parents grew up with, it’s an intensely complex world of emerging countries.”
He also said you learn more about your home culture when you’re away because the experience gives you time to reflect on your culture and learn how others perceive it.
“It’s so important to create more awareness about how you live and how others live,” Marisol Rosado said, who went on the South Africa trip this last Jan Term.
The biggest impact studying abroad for a semester in Costa Rica had on Davies was that she was able to take lessons she learned and apply them to her life back home.
“In Latin America there is such an emphasis on relationship over time,” Davies said.
After coming back to the hustle of everyday life here in the states she had a new appreciation for the simplicity of genuine relationships.
What are the benefits of studying abroad? “A newfound sense of confidence, problem solving skills and relationships. Not to do it means you’re depriving yourself,” Jackson said.
To Sauter, studying abroad is beyond worth it and isn’t quantifiable in dollar signs. Find out if you agree.
Contact Christina Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org.