By Teachers, For Teachers
"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind." -Seneca
Many typical American high school experiences have to be altered for the small school model. Sports programs inevitably get down-sized, elective courses are limited and extra curricular activity options rarely rise above a dozen. There aren’t enough teachers to moderate or students to consistently attend.
However, even in this shrunken model, we’ve found ways to offer our students exposure to the world outside of the school building.
My School's Study Abroad Efforts
For the past two years, the young, small, and high needs public high school I teach at has been able to take students abroad to first Costa Rica and Honduras for short learning experiences. This year there’s been a proposal to take them to the Middle East.
While this proposal is a huge jump in scale, I’m proud that the educators in my school care enough about the students exploring other countries to even imagine it. A handful of new teachers have even leaped forward to volunteer and chaperon.
My Study Abroad Experience
I remember my first study abroad experience which took place in high school. Although at the time I was too young, naive and ethnocentric to pick up on a lot of things, my world view did make a major shift upon my return. I remember helping my mom with the boxes upon boxes of holiday decorations that winter and critically asking for the first time, is all of this necessary?
I still have affects of my study abroad trip even in present day. During my recent travels abroad on the east coast’s luxury of mid-winter break, I continued to have my perspective challenged. After hearing the crowd sing a rousing (and explicit) rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” during a recent football match in London, I turned to my friend and asked why they were singing American songs.
“You idiot,” he told me. “Where do you think America got those old songs?”
Why Studying Abroad Rocks
As strange as it sounds, I want my students to have these embarrassing yet powerful epiphanies. Having someone else talk to them about the world will never compare to actually experiencing it for themselves. A startling number of my students rarely make it out of the Bronx, let alone the city of New York. While many of them are already bilingual, they are hardly bi-cognitive (a word I may or may not have just made up which means, to be able to think through multiple lenses).
Whether they learn to do this in a Spanish speaking country not too far from the US or all the way in the United Arab Emirates makes little difference to me as an educator. The goal is for them to gain exposure and come back to the school community to share the perspective. Although, I too may be throwing my hat in to volunteer if we can pull off the latter.
Do you think studying abroad offers benefits for students? Why or why not? Share in the comments section!