Put the resume away, study abroad is more than that
I recently read an essay from Inside Higher Ed by Professor Johann Neem in defence of a liberal arts education for all. He argues that we must not look to defend liberal arts from an economic standpoint because in doing so we distance them from their true value as a humanistic learning process that leads to a more enlightened society. We must instead dedicate resources to liberal arts learning for everyone to have the knowledge, background, and thinking skills to participate in society and evaluate policies and goals.
I loved this essay. Not surprisingly study abroad fits exactly into this argument. As with the liberal arts, it has “no” economic value. That is to say there is usually no immediate economic profit to study abroad. Obviously, in a well run program students learn transferable skills (adapting to new situations, learning on the spot, cooperating, and working in diverse teams) that can improve their career future, and some more technical skills, such as foreign language fluency, that serve to support study abroad from a broader economic point of view. But I believe that it does not serve our society well to look directly for evidence that study abroad provides something we can pin with a dollar amount. Professor Neem says, “Applied to a democratic society, (a liberal education) means that all citizens must be given opportunities to question their assumptions, to engage in inquiry to gain new insights about the nature of the world.” This is what study abroad should be for every student: a chance to question their assumptions and gain insight.
How do we get to this ideal? Perhaps instead of dedicating time and resources to making students experiences “resume ready” we should think more about having as first priorities their integration with the host country and intercultural communication and learning. Study abroad can be an ideal tool to help students learn about their role in the world and what it might mean to be a global citizen. Just as it is a worthy goal to provide everyone with a liberal arts education it would be phenomenal to contribute substantially to providing all students with a well designed study abroad program (including short term opportunities).