by Christina Golson
You’ve probably heard of the typical reasons why study abroad is a great idea. For example, you know gaining experience abroad helps you become more culturally aware. You know that it’s a great way for meeting new people from all over the world. You may also be aware that it opens our minds to new ways of thinking and a new perspective on life. Study abroad experience on a resume is also widely recognized as a very impressive credential to employers in an era in which globalization continues to prevail and thusly requires constant adaptation to the changes that it generates. All of these benefits are are of course desirable, extremely advantageous and available to those who get the opportunity to study abroad at any age. However, there are five specific benefits that stand for studying abroad, specifically as an underrepresented minority high-school student. These benefits not only profit the student, but also what they can potentially contribute to society.
Increased Maturity and Independence
As a high school student, you’re at a stage where you are just beginning to discover the types of things that spark your interest or inspire passion within you. You are beginning to become more open to new ideas and considering new ways of thinking just by being around your peers and teachers at school. You are also learning how to express yourself in a way that feels most natural to you. With all of this growth that you’re experiencing, you are at a phase in life that is an optimal time for you to be forced out of your comfort zone and to become familiar with how to function outside of what you consider routine. Study abroad at this stage in life can provide you with this very invaluable experience while simultaneously increasing your level of maturity and independence and pushing you to think for yourself. As a minority, it is of ultimate importance to gain independence and become very aware of issues that are most relevant to you as a person of color.
A Global Perspective
Studying abroad gives you a sense of maturity in adapting to a new place and finding growth in a new environment and a part from that, you learn more about the world through exposure to different cultures, world views and customs. With studying abroad, you are provided with the opportunity to learn how to interact with others who may differ from you in many ways but are also essentially the same. You can learn at an early age that people, regardless of race, socio-economic background, religion, etc., all require the same basic needs and have similar goals and in knowing that, we are able to connect. This allows you to view the world in a more positive way and discover how you can best contribute to society with your individual uniqueness. As a minority high school student, you can then bring this experience back with you and educate your peers on this newfound perspective that you were able to gain abroad. You can also begin to reform the general view of minorities as a whole and fight the stigmas that have been placed on us.
A Competitive Advantage
As a high school student with study abroad experience, you have an increased chance at getting accepted into your preferred college because admissions counselors can see proof that you have gained experience outside of your ordinary routine and therefore you have knowledge on how to operate in a different environment. It also reflects that you may be more open to different ideas and concepts which will ultimately make you more eager and inspired to learn. This will in turn encourage you to discover ways in which you can make a difference based on the subjects that you are most drawn to and the talent that you possess.
As a minority student applying to college, you already have diversity to bring to the table, which is something many universities actively look for. Study abroad experience only enhances your appeal and interest to admissions counselors seeking to add to the uniqueness of their campus. Also, as an underrepresented minority, statistically, we are typically not expected to have had a study abroad experience before entering college. By sending minority high school students abroad we can begin to change this assumption and ensure a more enriching future for our youth.
New Career Possibilities
A study abroad experience can help point you in the right direction when determining what career will best suit you. This is because it opens up your mind to new ideas of possibilities that you may not have been exposed to in the environment in which you grew up. For example, you may learn while abroad that you have an aptitude for language learning and without a study abroad experience in high school, you may not recognize that until much later. Having an early start when it comes to learning a new language will give you all the more time to invest in pursuing that as an option.
I myself, for instance, have always loved language- but it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Spain in college that I realized how much of an aptitude I had for learning Spanish. If I was able to tap into that before even entering college, I would have been able to dedicate more time to studying the language and assessing my options of what to do with my Spanish speaking skills. Other career paths that students may possibly discover of interest include international business, diplomacy, and the travel industry, just to name a few. When you, as a minority, have the chance to discover a new career path that you previously did not know existed for you, you are given the chance to not only discover a new passion but to also prove wrong so many limitations that society has placed on you. The earlier in life you have the chance to recognize this, the better.
Representing Your Culture Abroad
Just as there are many preconceived notions about minorities in the U.S., some of those same ideas exist in the minds of people abroad. Certain stigmas that minorities carry have been perpetuated primarily by way of the media and the lack of a decent representation of the true richness of our culture. There are also pre-existing preconceived notions about people of color that have stemmed from issues with immigration within certain countries. When young minorities are given the opportunity to study abroad before even entering college, they can interact with the youth abroad and begin to educate them on how those stereotypes that they may be familiar with are not at all a general representation of minorities as a whole. By simply being yourself, people abroad can begin to recognize a broader range of our culture. You can potentially reach a younger generation of people and begin to promote the way we deserve to be represented in order to move us towards a better position for generations to come.
The many benefits of a study abroad experience during high school for minority students are innumerable. However, the 5 specific benefits that have been outlined in this article are factors that I consider the core reasons from which many other benefits are produced. Studying abroad in high school as a minority should be viewed as an opportunity for the diversity and beauty of our differences to be better represented globally. It should also be recognized as a chance for our underrepresented youth to be presented with more career options and a chance to really compete with peers who may have already been exposed to these types of opportunities.
Christina Golson joined the World Smart team in 2016. She developed a passion for travel and language learning from her study abroad experience that began in college. She obtained her Masters in Spanish language and literature from Saint Louis University’s campus in Madrid, Spain and spent collectively 3 years being immersed in the Spanish culture. She now teaches Spanish language, literature and culture to high school students and enjoys sharing her experiences.