7 January–What students don’t learn abroad by Ben Feinberg

I actually found this article quite offensive when I initially read it. But as I finished reading I realized I was conflicted. On the one hand, I don’t feel at all like I fit into the category of study abroad students that Feinberg describes. But on the other hand, I am also very critical at times of how, from my perspective, many students ‘study abroad’ as an excuse for a romantic vacation abroad for three months while not seriously investing in learning the language or culture.  I’ll be the first one to sign up for a romantic adventure, so I don’t mistrust students’ desire to have an adventure. But at the same time, study abroad experiences are extremely expensive. I have a very hard time justifying a trip (even back to my mission country) if I don’t stand to gain significant academic experience. I also despise the idea of going somewhere where I don’t speak the language or even only speak the ‘colonial’ language rather than the indigenous language.

Often, when we tag an adventure like that as ‘academic’ we seem to find ways for other people to pay for it, whether it be our parents, the university, the government, or other donors. It seems to me that a financial investment of that size should be matched by an equally large academic investment. Starting to study French the semester before a trip to Paris and dropping it thereafter does not constitute the kind of academic investment I’m talking about. I know, of course, that not everyone fits into this category. I worry though; we promote some very expensive programs and many students jump on board without very much thought to the financial investment while other students with a legitimate academic interest worthy of investing in will often shy away from that experience because they don’t have the same financial support as someone else.

I whole heartedly support study abroad experiences. However, I think we could stand to focus more on the academic side than the ‘experience’ itself. If we were more academically invested, while we may still not escape the otherness mentality that our own American identity can lead to (and I don’t think we necessarily should try to supplant our identity with something foreign), we may perhaps avoid the stereotype that Feinberg bemoans.

~ by Abraham on 14 January 2011.

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