The Importance of Study Abroad

You have all heard me say that exchange is not a vacation and then I go on to discuss the hardships. The thing is that study abroad is so much more than that. It’s more than my hardships or my accomplishments. It’s so much more than me. Exchange is about, well exchange. It’s about sharing your own culture and in return getting to learn all about a whole new one. Learning to live in another country, in another family, in an entirely new culture, is an incredible experience, but it doesn't end there. Study abroad creates a means for public diplomacy, a way for average citizens to communicate with average citizens. I’m just a teenager, but I’m making a difference.

Last week I was sitting at the tram stop with my friend, when she told me that her perception of Americans has changed since she met me. I've got to tell you, that is the most flattering thing a YES student can hear. We are making a difference here. Every conversation, every experience I have with someone here gives an impression of the country as a whole. It can be a lot of responsibility. I have to be careful of what I say; as I might be the only American they ever meet. The first lady, Michelle Obama gave a speech on study abroad and said, “In study abroad you’re not just changing your own life, you’re changing the lives of everyone you meet.” I couldn't agree more.

Just sitting here in this room, I’m consumed by a passion for this program, for its mission. I have a reason to be here, and it’s not just to have a great time. I am here to show people that the United States is not just what the media portrays. MTV is a big deal here, and almost every day when I get home from school there is some music video on the television. Take a moment and imagine how you would view our nation if all you saw was Miley Cyrus twerking or news from the most recent war?

But my exchange doesn't end when I get off the plane. It doesn't end when I get back in my house or even when school starts again next year. Sharing my culture was one part, sharing what I've learned is the next. So though I have less than 3 months left, (oh gosh don’t remind me), I really have years and years left. Before I left, I was frustrated by the ignorance I saw around me, but I realized that we are never really exposed to the rest of the world. It's a sad reality, but no matter what, we are affected by the American culture and tend to focus on our own lives. This isn't a bad thing, but so many things can be learned from other countries.
 How are we supposed to know about other countries if all we see are biased videos or news from the most recent war?

All we know is what the Media shows us. This is true around the world. So how can we change that? We send people abroad. We send young, ordinary people to be ambassadors for our country and we welcome young, ordinary people into our own.

So many people these days ask if study abroad really is important. The question comes up again and again of why we pay for young students to go live somewhere else. So much pressure is put on a traditional learning system, four years of high school, AP classes. Though I agree those are important, I find myself part of a bigger picture. I was blessed by this opportunity, and took a risk by coming here. By Howard County standards, I am barely graduating, the online English class I take is my lifeline, but I don’t want to live my life to Howard County standards. I want to make a difference through my year here. I want to help break down these stereotypes and connect this world.

I encourage all of you to check out this speech given by the First Lady about the Importance of Study Abroad. She really hits the nail on the head.


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