Education Before Exploration
Some college students don’t have the time or money to travel abroad, and that’s okay.
By Emma Taubenfeld, Pace University
Instagram is overflowing with images of students shoving exotic foods into their mouths and group pictures of stylish millennials smiling in front of international monuments, most of which come with saccharine captions about having the “best” time, with the “best” people, in the “best” cities.
All the while, travel blogs flood Facebook, highlighting this free-spirited, migrant lifestyle of seeing ten different European cities in ten days, and YouTube channels offer “affordable” ways to see the world, provided of course that you have weeks of free time and enough money to afford “affordable.”
But, these trends tend to forget about the students who are taking a different collegiate path, such as commuters, transfers, working students and anyone in a program that don’t allow the time for travel. Also, there are people who simply don’t want to tour the world.
Yes, believe it or not, there are people like that.
Even more prohibitive than the path you’ve chosen is the price you pay, because when it comes to studying abroad, money is the name of the game. Generally, in addition to the travel fees, students still have to pay tuition. So, between the academic costs, airfare, housing arrangements, food and additional daily expenses, traveling can be a strain on your credit score.
Outside of its wallet-slimming effects, traveling can also be a logistical bear. There is a lot of planning, along with some unforeseen variables, such as language barriers and lost hours of sleep.
So, even though it looks like universities are pushing everyone toward the international experience, the opportunities really only cater to a specific type of person.
According to a study on international education conducted by Open Doors, approximately 313,000 American students received credit for studying abroad during the 2014-2015 school year, and over 22,000 participated in non-credit work, such as volunteering or interning, while abroad.
For the students who have the opportunity to go abroad, there is no doubt that it will be a wonderful experience with amazing stories to share upon your return, but, for those students who can’t travel, there are ways to be internationally educated in your own home country.
This previous academic year, the Open Doors study showed that the number of international students at American universities exceeded one million for the very first time.
The study discovered that 40 percent of those international students in America don’t have any American friends, so, instead of universities pushing select students out of the country, there should be a bigger push for Americans to interact with foreign students at their own school.
Doing so is a two-birds situation. First, domestic students get to experience the culture of other countries for very little expense. Hanging out with foreign students can lead to stimulating conversations, as well as exposure to new languages and ideas. These local interactions are available to students of any income bracket, meaning that being “cultured” no longer is a privilege of the wealthy. If there is an international student at your school, they are your key to experiencing a new world.
At the same time, international students studying in America benefit immensely from spending time with local undergrads. All the same boons that you experience from hanging out with them apply the opposite way as well, except for them, little things like practicing English and learning American customs are incredibly valuable.
What’s more, these temporary students get to interact with “real” Americans, not just the wealthy ones that can afford to spend months in Rome and Lyon. Meeting a variety of people is key to dismantling stereotypes, so the broader the swath of Americans that foreign students can meet, the more likely their impression of the country is to be positive.
So, while seeing ten countries in ten days may be an incredible adventure, there’s no need to feel as if you’re missing out because you are unable to have that experience. Despite the saying “Life is short,” it’s actually long enough that there will be other travel opportunities beyond the university walls.
College is busy. You have homework, exams, papers, internships, volunteering, extracurricular activities, work, making new friends, keeping in touch with old friends and making time to call your mother. Adding traveling into the mix may not work so well for some people, but it’s important to realize that it’s not the end.
There’s a notion that you will only discover certain aspects of yourself when you are traveling, but it’s not entirely true. Yes, you learn about yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone, but you can easily do that without leaving America. You may “find yourself” while studying abroad, but you could learn just as much by pushing yourself into new experiences right in your own backyard.
One of the most important lessons I have learned at school is that happiness comes from making the most out of a situation. So, when an advisor told me that I wouldn’t graduate on time if I chose to do a semester abroad, and how financially difficult it would be to travel over the summer, I had to figure out how to avoid moping about it and push myself to be where I am now.
Even the most boring American town can offer new experiences if you look hard enough for them. Traveling is about more than weird foods and funny clothes; it’s about an open-mindset and the willingness to learn. Plus, you won’t have to deal with airport security.