Going Away, Gaining Perspective
By Sheldon Green
For nearly 50 years, Concordia has believed that spending time in another culture is a valuable and necessary part of a student’s education.
It’s why the college developed short-term study abroad programs to appeal to a large number of students rather than a select few. By going into the world, students experience for themselves the true scale and context of a culture in all its colors and textures.
Today most seminars use a model where students stay in one or two places during a month, giving them ample time to become familiar with their surroundings and feel connected to a place.
Students engage in depth-filled conversations with local residents. Many do service-learning projects to interact with locals. Cobbers going abroad today develop deeper personal relationships and often remain in frequent communication with the people they meet.
As evidenced by destinations where students journeyed last summer, Concordia has gone far beyond traditional Europe to embrace the whole world. Students have opportunities to experience places like China, Greece, Scotland, Rwanda, Tanzania – quite literally, anywhere on the globe.
Like the experiences of decades ago, students still visit museums and attend plays and concerts while abroad. But students today also go to health clinics, grocery stores, movie theatres, cafés, bookstores and Internet cafés. They may stay in someone’s home and share a meal at that family’s table. Every day, they experience sights, smells and sounds they had never experienced before.
This often leads them to self-realization.
When first abroad, students often don’t know what to pay attention to because they are uncomfortable being away from the familiar. But they soon begin asking questions. They wonder, “Why do Americans emphasize this, and these people don’t?”
Their counterparts abroad seem to have thought about things more than they have. They ask themselves, “Why haven’t I noticed this?” By spending time in another culture, students learn about themselves and their own country. Once they return, students do more reading, more thinking. They begin figuring out things for themselves, and see Concordia and their friends in a different light.
They become changed people.
It’s not noticeable while they’re abroad because they are immersed in events there; but they come back different.
They are able to better evaluate their own home and society, and analyze the culture they live in. They have new skills to see a place and become more questioning of the lifestyles they live. They see, for example, how limited fresh water is in the world, and they begin thinking about their own consumption. They notice people abroad who walk more, use more public transportation, throw away much less.
These experiences are good for faculty leaders too. Many say their time abroad with students is their single most profound teaching experience. They can show rather than tell. When students are immersed for sustained periods of time, they more quickly grasp learning concepts and what they have to offer them. Faculty members notice an explosive growth in the students as critical thinkers. They watch students grow as adults as a result of their experiences.
One of the most common outcomes of the study abroad experience is that, in an unfamiliar environment, students take charge of their lives and spend time in activities that leave an imprint on them.
Here are photographs that capture some of those experiences, those relationships, those interactions that change lives.
Photos: Erin Hemme Froslie/Sheldon Green/Gia Rassier/Briann Sandholm