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February 3, 2013

Why I Think You Should Study Abroad

A Hobo-Dyer world map.

I’ve been told that the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it.  I don’t speak any foreign languages, really (eight years of Latin and basic Dutch don’t count) so I don’t know.  But I can tell you that the best way I’ve found to think critically about the society you live in is to live away from it for a little while.

Many of Clark’s classes ask you to re-examine parts of your own world that you think you know, turning them over in your head and trying to examine them as if you were apart from them.  We even have a “Global Perspective” course requirement that focuses on exactly this sort of thinking.  Unfortunately, as well as Clark exposes us to new and diverse modes of thinking, it’s difficult to sustain an outsider’s perspective for any serious length of time.  At the end of the day, you’re still living in the United States, and you can’t help but think within the parameters already defined for you by your society.

That’s where study abroad comes in.  When you’re abroad, you’re immersed in a culture that thinks about the United States as the “other” – for better or for worse – twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  I’m not talking about anti-Americanism here (though that’s definitely present), I’m just talking about America being a point of comparison rather than the central example.  It’s a simple intellectual shift, but it opens up some profound areas for consideration.  And it’s only possible if you spend quite a bit of time outside the United States, and can’t shift back into U.S.-centric thinking during lunch or dinner.

For me, my time abroad has helped me to define why I’m an American, why it’s the country that I want to come back to and spend my life in and for.  For you, it might do something else.  I can’t guarantee what.  I can guarantee that it will expand the dreams you dream for yourself.  And that’s no bad thing.

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