The Value of International Experience

When I was 17, I was dropped into a Costa Rican high school without knowing a single verb in Spanish. Five years have passed since that experience, two of which I have spent outside of the U.S., and I am finally beginning to understand how greatly my time abroad impacted my life. My travels affected my major, my career goals, and provided me with a strong sense of self. However, in the United States, we do not adequately value international experiences. With the political turmoil and the economic difficulties of the last decade, the world can look like a pretty scary place. By turning inward, cultivating national growth and rejecting foreign influence, many believe they are securing their futures. On the contrary, an international experience strengthens our society by cultivating well-informed individuals who use what they learned abroad to improve our country. By experiencing a different culture, one is able to scrutinize the habits of their own country. This fresh perspective in turn improves government, social programs and business practices. International experience, especially studying abroad, should be more valued in our country in order to cultivate a compassionate society that responsibly interacts with its international counterparts.  

As Americans, we have the opportunity to travel to just about any country in the world with relatively minor visa requirements. Worldwide, many people are constrained to the interior of their borders not only financially but politically. For a citizen from a developing country, the likelihood of obtaining a visa for travel to a first world country is almost non existent because of the idea that the traveler will stay in the more prosperous country to work illegally. To adequately acknowledge the freedom of movement we possess as Americans, we must take advantage of the travel opportunities we have. It is important to understand the possibilities we have as citizens of a prosperous and influential nation, because they are not universally available.

The average MSU student is probably thinking “Okay, so I have some sort of international privilege. I still cannot afford a ticket!” As a student one qualifies for many study abroad options that are equivalent to paying in-state tuition at MSU. A student abroad will still be surrounded by the familiarity of the classes in their major, while able to explore what it is like to live in another country, with different ideas about politics, gender roles and cultural norms. These differences will allow students to better understand what it means to be an American and the impact they have on the world.

Appropriate appreciation of international experience could be demonstrated by making study abroad programs mandatory for certain majors. Studying abroad is not currently required for any degree at MSU. However, students of Modern Languages, International Relations, Political Sciences, International Business and other globally sensitive fields ought to have some global experiences before graduating. A degree in any of these fields suggests an international sensitivity, which cannot solely be obtained in the classroom. By showing the importance of worldwide experience within the university systems, our society would appropriately recognize the merit of international experience.

The merit of an international experiences lays within the understanding a person obtains from contact with a foreign culture. Studying, working or traveling abroad allows people to better understand themselves as MSU students, Americans and human beings. It is imperative to understand the power one possesses as an American, and the wide range of possibilities at our disposal. As members one of the most influential and impactful cultures in the world, it is only responsible we obtain an international understanding of our power and privilege. We must utilize the variety of options available to us as Americans by exercising our freedom of movement. In turn, we might learn something about ourselves. A society that encourages international experience will evolve and raise to meet any challenge that is presented to it.