Lifetime Learning

“Go Away! The Importance of Study Abroad”

Picture1by David T. Gies
Commonwealth Professor of Spanish

When students —or their parents— ask me if they should consider studying abroad, I usually answer with a simple, elegant word. “Duh!”

I think that means “Yes.”

Actually, what I THINK to myself is something more along these lines:  “What??!  Are you CRAZY?  UVa has some of the nation’s best study abroad programs, programs designed to stretch your linguistic skills, to challenge you to see the world beyond the borders of Cabell Hall or Rubgy Road or your dorm room, to open your eyes and ears to new perspectives and new ideas, to open your senses to new sounds and colors and tastes and smells, to allow you to delve in to the culture and literature and film of some of the planet’s most exciting places. We have programs or exchanges in France, England, Spain, Costa Rica, Italy, Ireland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Sweden, Jordan, Morocco, South Africa, Shanghai, and many other places.  Or, we can send you wherever you want to go.”

Can’t decide on just one country?

“Well, we have a giant ship —the MV Explorer, run by Semester at Sea— that has taken students to many of those countries, plus Cuba, India, Singapore, Japan, Ghana, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Brazil, and Burma.”

Too long?

“Ok, then do a J-Term class with one of your favorite professors, many of which take place in Spain or Germany or St. Kitts or Argentina or India or Ireland….”

What?  You’re afraid?  Or, even worse, you’re afraid you’ll miss something here?

“Sure, like another fraternity party on Rugby Road, another football or basketball game.  You’ll miss your roommate or your boyfriend.  You’ll miss the latest episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ or ‘Storage Wars’. Yes, sir, those are great reasons.”

We live in a world that shrinks by the day, but it is NOT an American World. Knowing other people’s languages and customs and needs and worries allows you to become a Citizen of the World, an educated, mature adult prepared to enter civil debate in order to solve the problems that more and more are becoming everybody’s problems. You enter a community of wise, worldly human beings more capable of seeing how we are all similar than seeing how we are all different.  You will make deep friendships that will last a lifetime. You will visit sites you have only seen in the movies or on Google images or Instagram or Facebook. You will return a very different, yet paradoxically the same, person.  You will move toward becoming the person you know deep in your heart you want to be.

A student told me the other day that this resistance to “missing” something is now called FOMO:  Fear of Missing Out.  Trust me, you will NOT miss out on anything.  On the contrary, you will be enriched, challenged, excited, and integrated into a world that needs your engagement.

Stop over to the International Studies Office in Minor Hall.

Get a passport.

Go away.


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