In the spirit of our study abroad issue, it’s important that not only Saint Louis University students recognize the benefit of studying abroad, but all college students. Studying abroad may be the most spiritual, most expensive, most fun and altogether greatest learning experience of a student’s life.
Last year, over 750 students went abroad through Saint Louis University and 450 went abroad for a full semester or more. SLU is a university of over 11,000 total students, 7,000 of which are undergraduates. So, the students studying abroad constitute a tiny percentage of the total student population. Some students perhaps just don’t want to, while others, such as those in the Medical Scholars program, find it extremely difficult to do so.
This is frankly not acceptable. The expected and unexpected benefits of studying abroad are astronomical, and it is imperative that any student that can go abroad should go abroad. It is also extremely important that SLU and other campuses take a more comprehensive effort to both allow and encourage students to study abroad. SLU already makes it easy to study abroad, with many programs cheaper than a semester at SLU.. However, there is always more the university can do.
Last week, the New York Times chimed in with a debate on the worth of studying abroad. As part of the debate, Curtis Chin, a contributor to the paper, stated that “[studying abroad] can be a waste of time.” In a typical cost-to-benefit analysis, he argues that studying abroad may not be worth the money or even marketable for those who aren’t motivated. “Studying abroad can be a nice ‘add-on’ in theory,” he states, “but it also can be a waste of time, or simply a good time, for an unfocused and privileged university student.”
In his critique of studying abroad, Chin talks of how many study abroad experiences are not always beneficial. However, Chin’s definition is extremely narrow, pertaining to how beneficial an experience will be in helping that person get a job. Beneficial is so much more than that! These study abroad opportunities are more than mere job-preparedness training; they are intensely personal experience where one has the time to look at themselves: their life, their values and where they’re headed. Students have the opportunity to see just how independent, how open-minded, how adaptable they really are. While studying abroad, there’s also the time to be extraordinarily selfish, in the best way possible. With no family, no organizations and no heavy course load, you can completely and utterly focus on you.
These are not job skills; these are life skills. These are skills that will help you be a better friend, spouse, lover, parent, teacher and person. They are unfettered, universal and powerful contributors to living well.
As far as the argument of how little a “privileged and unfocused college student” can benefit from studying abroad, I’d like to counter how little such a student is benefitting from their college experience in general. What I know and what I’ve seen are students that have never been challenged before go abroad and come back new people. One can’t simply go through the motions while abroad. One can’t hide behind their family; they’re not there. One can’t hide behind their traditions; the same traditions don’t exist The only thing they can do is open themselves up to a new culture, a new religion, a new language, new people and new experiences, and they will never be the same.
A SLU education is intended to teach the whole person, and there is no other experience that contributes more in fulfilling that ambitious promise.