This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel abroad. I heard about all of the benefits from friends, professors, family, and colleagues but never really understood the importance of such an experience until I actually went through it myself. Upon returning, I made it my goal to inspire and educate people to go. I learned and saw so much in such a short amount of time. I earned an international perspective, new business knowledge, and a boatload of memories and friends that I will never forget! I wanted to take a moment to let you all know why I feel it is so important to involve yourself in an international program!
Globalization and cultural diversity in the workplace is here to stay. The world is all connected, economically, politically, and socially. Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to view the world in a different context. It allows them to use all five senses to explore unfamiliar surroundings in the international community. Not only will participants learn about cultures, but they will typically glean an understanding of the business and academic practices that are in place for the region they explore. Furthermore, if they ask the right questions and look in the right places, they could earn an understanding of the political climate in their host country as well. When overseas, you can look beyond the veil of arrogance that often prevents us from seeing the big picture. As much as some people would like to believe that we are the only country that calls this earth home, we are not. When abroad, I read international newspapers and watched the foreign media speak about the United States and the world in general. I had the ability to analyze my culture from a distance. Doing so gave me a lot of insight because it is often difficult to analyze oneself and ones culture unless viewing it from afar. Studying abroad allows for this process to take place, and in doing so, I believe that students will come back with an awareness and sensitivity to other cultures that simply wouldn’t be possible without the experience of international travel. One key takeaway I’ve learned over the past few years is that there is no substitute for experience. You can read about cultures, hear about them from others, and watch programs about them on discovery channel as many times as you’d like, but until you’ve spent time in the environment and interacted with the culture on a personal level, you will never truly understand the nature of it. Like many Americans, I lived with stereotypes of the world beyond my borders. The people of the world around us are just as we think they are…until we speak with them and ask questions. Only then is our mind opened to the possibility that they are not the way we thought they were at all. The French are NOT rude as many people have told me. Instead, they are like mirrors, projecting back the attitudes that they receive. This is just one of many examples that I may save for a future blog but I hope that the point I’m making remains clear.
The College of Business is very supportive of students looking to earn this international perspective. They partner with companies to help students journey overseas and explore aspects of business, academia, and culture overseas. http://www.cob.niu.edu/studyabroad/index.asp The programs run over summer and winter, so you don’t need to worry about missing classes. Also, scholarship options are highly available; you just have to look in the right places!
A final point, completely unrelated to academics or business, is the personal touch of it all. Not only do you meet people from different countries but in many programs, you get to travel with students from different schools from across the United States. So not only are you experiencing different cultures from other countries, but you are able to exchange ideas and understand lifestyles from different areas of our own country. Because you experience so much with these folks you really do become like a family. I feel like I earned brothers and sisters from my trip. I’ve even visited friends from the program who live as far away as Los Angeles, California. This is after spending only three weeks with them in Europe.
I urge all of you to look into the opportunities that the College of Business provides. My only regret is not doing it sooner. If you are a freshman, sophomore, or even high school student reading this blog, I hope that you will take the plunge early and understand what an amazing and rewarding adventure it is to study abroad! 2.0out