Study Abroad is Key to Success

photo-2When I was in college I remember overhearing a fellow student talk about her plans for spending her junior year studying abroad. She was going to go to France for a semester and planning to get a Eurail pass to travel on a train across the continent while there.

Sometime in my senior year, I also met a guy who had just returned from a semester in England. His friends kept teasing him for developing a British accent, but he laughed it off, saying he’d just had the time of his life.

Back then, I myself never considered studying abroad. It seemed out of the realm of possibility for me. I didn’t think my parents could afford to help pay for it, for one, and my on-campus job working in a day care barely was enough to live off of, let alone journey to another country for such an extensive period. Besides, I was pretty sure my Latino parents would be against me leaving the country without either of them to accompany me. So, that was that.

But here’s something else: Neither my adviser nor any of my professors ever encouraged me to consider international studies. None of them suggested it might be worth my while, or what a world of difference it could make to my life. In fact, I think if any of them had sent information to my parents about the value of studying abroad, my parents could have been persuaded.

Dr. Bruce traveled to the Dominican Republic to help youth improve literacy skills.

Dr. Bruce traveled to the Dominican Republic to help youth improve literacy skills.


Was it because I’m a person of color that the idea of studying abroad was never raised to me? I’ll never know. True, the only folks I remember doing the study abroad program were white, including the girl who went to France and the guy who developed the British accent.

But the truth is, even today, students of color don’t study abroad nearly as often as their Caucasian counterparts. And yet there’s a multitude of reasons why all students should be taking advantage of the opportunity.

Studying abroad opens your mind, teaches you about other cultures and languages, and helps you connect and touch the lives of those you meet along the way. It expands your horizons and, in this global age, it makes you more competitive in the workplace.

I recently sat down with Dr. Aaron Bruce, Chief Diversity Officer for San Diego State University. Bruce, who has traveled extensively, has made it his mission to convince students to take the plunge and head overseas.

I hope you’ll read his story in the Huffington Post, and share it with any college students in your life, as well as any kids who aren’t yet ready for college. Ingrain it in them now, so that they too can reap the rewards of studying abroad.

Oh and be sure to leave a comment there and share your thoughts. Did you study abroad? If so, what was it like for you and how did it make a difference to your life?


34 thoughts on “Study Abroad is Key to Success

  1. Great post! I’m proud to say I am responsible for encouraging, finding funds and identifying students for travel abroad. Oh my…over the years…let me count them. I have trained students in Spanish who travel to Central and South America to give medical help, education in hygiene, lessons in English, dental education, and yes, digging latrines. I have also, met with students and parents encouraging them to apply for study abroad and/or travel abroad. One young lady of color went to Ecuador for a year. I applaud her mother for letting her go while still in high school. Yes, this is certainly part of my world — I haven’t posted about it yet.
    Once again, I find your site such a refreshing place to visit.

    • Georgette, what a great position to be in! To help students open their minds to other cultures and worlds, to help them gain experience they’d be unable to otherwise. Plus, they’re making a difference through their work abroad, in ways they never imagined. You really need to share more about your work, and I’d love to see you post about it. It’s quite fascinating. Hope I’ve inspired you!

  2. Reblogged this on From college to…whatever the world has in store for you. and commented:
    As a first generation college student, I couldn’t afford a ‘traditional’ study abroad experience. Luckily, Mexico is very close to Arizona, so I made a short term program happen. It changed my life…. I love to help students realize that ‘study abroad’ doesn’t have to be longterm to have a life-changing, positive effect! Thank you for your post!

    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I wish I’d had the chance to study abroad. I see how it can make an impact in so many ways. My daughter was able to do a program in Barcelona and I truly believe it helped her get the amazing job she has today. If we can increase participation by even 2 percent, we will have accomplished something great for our future leaders.

  3. Absolutely spot on, Monica, as I mentioned previously via Twitter. I think studying abroad can be a defining difference during these formative years. It is my biggest regret. I will insist on it for my children. This morning, while having my 2nd daughter try on some hand-me-downs, I told her, “the less we spend on ‘things’ like these, the more we get to save for things that really matter”; these things are invaluable experiences that will add more substance to their lives as they carve their place in the world. They’ll forget the outfits, but they’ll never forget the experiences of meeting new people and going new places…of broadening their worldview.

    Beautifully written. Thanks again!

  4. It wasn’t even within my frame of reference to travel abroad when I was in college, though Sara did a junior semester in New Zealand and I got to visit 😉 Seems such a generational thing — it would never have occurred to me that students of color do not go abroad as much, distressing as I find the statistic.

  5. —-Monica,
    so much opportunity now to study abroad. It’s pretty common, isn’t it?
    I agree. By leaving our own country, experiencing other cultures, and encountering new people, it GREATLY enriches our lives, makes us more interesting, right?
    I did not do this thru school, only afterwards on a cruise ship….. I was like, OMGOSH, America is not the only country in the Universe! Amazing.
    I also realized that other cultures knew more about the outside world than I did!
    Great post, as usual, darling. xx

    • Kim, it’s not as common as you think. Apparently, of all the students eligible to do do it, in the academic year ending in 2012, only 1% actually did go. Most stay. And I recall back when I was touring colleges with my daughter, just about every school we visited said they charge for one semester of a study abroad program the same tuition fee they charge for attending a semester at school. So the only extra fee is airfare and incidentals, because you’d be paying rent or for a dorm, anyway. And you’d be eating, whether you stay or go abroad. So schools are trying to make it more accessible, and there are some scholarships, but maybe what stops people is the application process. Because you do have to apply, just as when you apply to go to college. I could see that turning some people off. But it’s so worth it, for those who do go.

  6. Great post! I am a huge proponent of traveling, living, working, studying anything you can do outside of your home country. You are absolutely right, it opens your mind and shows you a world that is not your own. I forget the numbers now, but it is huge, the number of US citizens without a passport, staggering. The number of people even who have never traveled outside of their home state, staggering. How will we ever fix what is broken in this nation if we don’t see the world.

    • There should be a way for more people to travel, to open their eyes and minds to different cultures and traditions. Even if only to go to Canada or Mexico. As a kid, my family would make the drive up to Montreal nearly every summer. Gosh, how I loved that. Of course, seeing Niagara Falls was a thrill. I’m about to renew my passport!

    • I hear going to Scotland for students majoring in theater is amazing. I know someone who went and loves it. She now works for the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, a theater that is known for sending many a play to Broadway. 😉

  7. Monica, I’m not sure we can affix blame on race for not studying abroad. Rather, I think it was just part of the times we lived in. I never studied abroad, for many of the same reasons you listed (cost, parental fear, etc.). Nor was the idea ever suggested to me. In fact, I didn’t know a SINGLE SOUL who studied abroad while I was in college!

    Fast forward to when Domer was in college, and the story is completely different. Not only were kids encouraged to study abroad, but they were helped with all kinds of programs designed for both study and giving back. And yes, he knew kids of all races who were able to swing international stays, many to what I still think of as exotic places!

    The times are a-changing, my friend. We Boomers can pat ourselves on the back for recognizing the depth and breadth of importance global learning can play in someone’s life, AND for doing something about it to help following generations grab hold of an advantage we didn’t have. As our world shrinks, we can see we’re not so very different, after all!

  8. I didn’t study abroad because nursing was my major and there wasn’t any offer to do so. I did take advantage in high school of the trip to Spain that was offered. It was my first plane ride and having married an airline pilot, travel is easier on the wallet but a challenge to get an empty seat. Our daughter plans on studying in Japan after graduation. She is majoring in Animal Science and Japanese. I love that she wants to persue this challenge especially learning science in another language but she loves it!

    • These days, there are ways to study abroad without it having to be closely tied to your major. How lovely that your daughter plans to go to Japan. I’m sure she’ll find her time there fascinating and she’ll increase her fluency skills to boot. With any luck, perhaps you’ll be able to visit her while she’s there? That’s what I did when my daughter went to Barcelona. What fun that was!

  9. I studied French in college, so although living in a French speaking country wasn’t required, it was highly encouraged. I was lucky enough to spend a summer studying in a small French city and, after I graduated, I spent a year teaching English at a French public school. I learned a lot more than language skills on those two trips and I’m still very close to the two families I lived with when I was there. Learning another language and another culture opens your mind and heart in amazing ways. It’s intimidating and can be expensive, but I’d advise any student with the opportunity to take advantage of it.

    • Shary, your experience sounds fantastic. Nowadays, there are scholarships that ca help those who need assistance. What we need to now is to change the mindset, in order to demonstrate that this opportunity for studying abroad is something all can benefit from. 🙂

  10. My youngest daughter studied art in Italy and the experience changed her in ways I cannot describe. She matured and became more responsible and so on. The experience was well worth the extra cost and I believe helped her get a better teaching position. The exposure to other cultures was life altering. Here is a short article I wrote about a small window into that experience:

    The Kindness And Trust Of Others

    • It’s not only the experience of traveling abroad, it’s the independence one gets in being on your own in a different country. No doubt, that helped your child become more responsible and centered. You did good by her, Jackie, in letting her experience that. The memories are priceless.

  11. When I was growing up in Australia and going to University, my Spanish literature professor encouraged all of us to go on a 3 month exchange program to Mexico. They had host families ready for us, and a good friend came back completely fluent with a fantastic experience. I had just lost my dad and was on a student loan. My mom and I had no money, so I couldn’t go. I wished I could have gone Monica, my mom would not have liked it, it is not in my culture to go away and study abroad. Would I do it for my children? I don’t know, it would be such a great experience for them.

    • I’m sorry you couldn’t go. When I was high school, my class went on a two-week trip to Russia. How I wanted to go, but my parents, didn’t see the potential in allowing me, nor was it explained to them, so I couldn’t. You’ve taken your girls to other lands, so they’re already on the right track. You’ve already opened their eyes. I hope when the time comes you’ll do the right thing by them. Ask me how I was able to let my daughter go to Barcelona for her studies. Do you think it was easy, with the time difference, too? But was it worth it! Yes!

  12. I traveled to Australia, but barely anyone at my school did. Maybe 5% at the time. I hope times are changing. We had an exchange student for a year, and then my son decided to take a year in New Zealand, practically unheard of for a highschool sophomore. Now my son is a high school sophomore and I can’t imagine him leaving for a year! But in college, I want him to go and learn other languages and cultures, in fact I hope he does some summer things abroad. It is so valuable!

    • Of the nearly 300,000 students eligible in the 2011-2012 academic year, only 1% studies abroad. Don’t know what the figures were when you went, but you were lucky, indeed, to enjoy the opportunity. Good for you, Jodi!

  13. Excellent post as always Monica.

    I have met quite a few people over here studying from all around the world, and racially they have been a mixed bunch to be honest. A lot come to Cambridge University and many of them will visit Peterborough whilst they are here.

    I would love to see some of the world and may do one day who knows…. But it’s a bit late for me to go somewhere to study!

    Here we have the Marshall Papworth Trust (Put it in Google) it’s named after the late brother of a good friend of mine, It brings people over from the third world to learn all about farming and to get qualifications.

    Colour should really have no effect on peoples ability to get on in life, the fact it sometimes does is a terrible inditment against the human race and something we should be ashamed of.

    I think it’s sad when people are judged on their colour, if somebody can’t see the person underneath then they should be truly truly ashamed of themselves.

    Right must get off my soap box before my monologue becomes an epilogue!

    • It’s sad but real. It doesn’t end either. At least not here. As for it being a bit late for you, I don’t think it’s ever too late to travel and some of the world outside your corner of it. Be bold. Take the missus and head to Paris or the opposite side of England. Could be quite an adventure.

      • I have done most of England, Wales and lot’s of Scotland but never been outside the UK. My favourite area is definitely the Highlands of Scotland followed by the mountains of north and mid Wales.

    • Thank you for reblogging. Together we can make a difference. We can let our youth know that there are alternatives to dying at the hands of the police. Dr. Bruce told me how it made a difference in his life, to go abroad and find there are countries where he was treated with respect, where doors were open to him, and he found exciting opportunities awaited. The experience inspired him to strive for greatness. Thanks for sharing this.

      • I love your writing and your blog post, you are a very sharp woman. Thank you for posting this, have a great holiday weekend.

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