Speaking from experience, studying abroad is not just an adventure, but a life-changing experience. During my six weeks in the Czech Republic (and, briefly, in neighboring Slovakia) during the summer of 2008, I not only learned about Czech culture, history, and politics in an academic setting, but absorbed firsthand the sights, sounds, lived experiences, and perspectives of a totally different society. It was the first time I ever truly immersed myself in another culture, and it gave me a deep appreciation of how a country’s unique historical development (especially relative to the U.S.) can impact its culture, society, politics, and national character.
More importantly, my study abroad also affirmed that “people are people everywhere” — that is to say, that distant foreigners are no different from us when it comes to their base needs, desires, fears, aspirations, and so on. The specifics will vary of course — the majority of Czechs, for example, are much more worried about Russian aggression than most Americans, by virtue of recent history — humanity and relatability remain.
I am thankfully not the only one to see the value in this experience. As argues in Foreign Affairs, the open-mindedness, empathy, and understanding inculcated in students studying abroad is not only valuable for its own sake, but in the aggregate and long term, can be indispensable to the prosperity of the U.S. Continue reading