“Every day that I wake up, I remember that trip and the people and the places and my life continues to feel different and more profound because of all I learned while there,” wrote Shyla, whose David Starr Jordan Scholarship made the trip possible. “I didn’t even realize that those few days were not ‘full of everything I would learn’ because so much learning came after I returned home.”
Reading or hearing comments from study abroad students like Shyla reminds me of my own experience in Madrid during my junior year abroad.
The geopolitical situation was quite different in 1971 than it is today. Young Americans were fighting in Vietnam, and Spain was still under the repressive regime of longtime dictator Francisco Franco. But like Shyla, my study abroad transformation took place within me, affecting my mindset, impacting my own set of values and changing my future goals. For me and thousands of IU students each year, the learning process doesn’t stop when the plane returns to U.S. soil. That landing is just the beginning of applying a new perspective on the world.
I never imagined when I was a student abroad decades ago, navigating a new culture in another language, that I would someday have the responsibility for so many IU students venturing abroad to expand their knowledge base.
Even with the advent of social media, instant communications and accessible information at the touch of a finger, the outcomes of a quality study abroad experience have remained very much the same over the decades. An individual is thrust into a different reality and must make sense of its distinctiveness while also seeking out commonalities with people raised with a different set of expectations, values and resources. This juxtaposition of the same and the different, the known and the unknown, the self and the other, energizes the mind and heart into a self-awakening that, in the best of circumstances, stays with a person for life. Study abroad experiences can lead to a more open mind, a more tolerant attitude, a more expansive understanding of society and a greater desire for peace among peoples of the world.
Students seek programs abroad for a range of reasons, but ultimately, they all come back different from the person they were when they left. And that is what inspires me to continue the work that we do here at the Office of Overseas Study. Getting individuals connected with one another across cultures breaks down barriers and offers a glimmer of what the world could be like if people welcomed the differences in one another and worked past them in order to achieve a better existence for all.