The Importance of Overseas Travel for College Students

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college travel and study abroad

When I was in college way back in the 1970’s it was relatively uncommon for average students to travel abroad, whether privately or through school sponsored programs. Foreign travel came (if at all) after graduation and after enough money was saved for the special trip. Unless you were a foreign exchange student or majored in a subject that necessitated overseas study, there simply weren’t viable opportunities for expensive travel for most kids.

Today, in many colleges and universities, study-abroad programs are highly recommended, and in many cases mandatory for graduation. Even in majors such as fine arts, life sciences, pre-law and others, the best schools recognize the tremendous benefits students receive from direct exposure to other cultures. Most schools that offer these programs subsidize the study abroad costs over and above regular scholarships, grants and loans in order to make it as affordable as possible for students.

Surprisingly many young people today have a misperception of US history relative to overall world history. The typical 3rd grader is often amazed while viewing “relics” from the Civil War in museums, or visiting 300 year old buildings in Philadelphia. To many kids, THAT’S OLD!

Little do they know that just a few thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean are 2000 year old fully intact structures that are testaments to our ancient ancestors’ accomplishments. In Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, there are 1000+ year old churches still in use today.

While visiting Colmar, France several years ago, my 10-year-old son was amazed to see a private residence built in 1490 — 2 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Unfortunately, for many young Americans, history seemingly began with Columbus. Yes, students read about ancient times in textbooks, and they technically know there was an active worldwide populace pre-USA, but to them the Dark Ages are simply that: dark – merely words and pictures in a book. They really know what they can see and touch. And unfortunately they aren’t seeing and touching much more than what’s on their smartphones these days.

Nothing comes alive more than experiencing great cultural achievements live and in person. Walking the hallways of the Colosseum in Rome really takes you back to the time of gladiators. Coming face-to-face with the Acropolis in Greece or the Great Pyramids in Egypt reminds one of the highly advanced cultures from thousands of years past. Stonehenge in the UK is purported to have been constructed over 5000 years ago — and engineers today still cannot determine exactly how its designers built it.

As any student of history knows, these and other great cultures eventually disappeared over time. Though there were many tremendous achievements (none more apparent than those monuments I mentioned), there were also serious failures that ultimately doomed these ancient societies.

One of the key responsibilities of students today is to appreciate both the triumphs and mistakes of former civilizations, to ensure we do not repeat the failures of the past, while championing policies and practices that were proven to build and sustain great cultures. Colleges recognize that responsibility and strive to provide students with the tools and resources to gain that deep understanding of our global society and economy. One glance at the financial pages today will demonstrate how tightly our economy is tied to the economies of so many countries, located on literally every continent — with both good and bad outcomes.

In order to effectively work with our foreign partners, both politically and economically, it takes far more than simply knowing their language. Social mores and business practices vary greatly from country to country. What may be considered obligatory in one country may be taboo in another. College students today are learning these skills first hand — before entering in the business world. Study abroad programs provide students with the ability to travel to many different countries during their semester or year away from home, preparing them to succeed in life in the new world order. They experience first-hand the differences between American culture and the cultures of other lands, leading ultimately to greater collaboration, cooperation, and tolerance between nations.

So if your student is offered the opportunity to study abroad, wherever the program may send them, just say Yes. And lastly the HR connection: When looking for talent please place appropriate value to studying abroad!