The New York Times recently published an op-ed piece entitled “Study Abroad’s Seven Deadly Sins”. The author, Peter A. Coclanis, is director of the Global Research Institute and a professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The sins of study abroad he cites include: slide courses (easy classes), suds (drinking), sexual fervidity, shopping, self-segregation, smartphoning, selfie-taking. Any educational experience – abroad or otherwise – depends a great deal on the efforts of students to make the most of their studies. These seven sins can take place on campuses in the US as well.
But there are real virtues of studying abroad that this piece ignores. Especially at NYU, with our unparalleled global reach and offerings, there is much to be gained from studying overseas. The seven virtues of studying abroad include:
Students at NYU’s global academic centers of campuses can take academically challenging and stimulating classes taught by NYU faculty. They can do required coursework for their majors, whether in the humanities or STEM, at many sites. Students can start their NYU experience abroad, as incoming Global Liberal Studies freshman in London, Paris, Florence, or Shanghai. A number of graduate programs also have international offerings or support for research overseas.
Whether through cultural programming, internships, volunteering, living with a host family, or other opportunities, NYU’s global sites strive to give students a meaningful, authentic experience. Students are encouraged to explore and connect with the local community and follow their passions towards what will be rewarding for them – whether it be through the local arts scene or working with a local NGO.
Spending time in a foreign country or culture can be a powerful way for students to personally grow. Having to navigate new norms, a new language, even new food, can challenge students to challenge themselves in unplanned and surprising ways. Those types of awakening experiences cannot be planned on a syllabus or scripted, but simply allowed to follow from stepping out of one’s comfort zone.
While overseas, students want to make the most of their time – taking weekend trips, sightseeing, doing as much as possible. Balancing the desire to see, do, and travel with the demands of academics can develop discipline. Discipline can be an asset for students not only when abroad, but can also be a useful skill to take away from time overseas.
Flexing your Brain
Studies repeatedly show that bilingual babies have more flexible brains. And our brains are continuously developing. So being in situations where you are learning and using a new language, or navigating a new culture, can encourage your brain to be more flexible and nimble. And hopefully students can bring some of that flexibility back with them, but continuing to use and speak a new language for example.
Opening your Heart
One of the aspects of study abroad that students often say is most rewarding for them is simply falling in love with a new city or a new country. Discovering something about a new place that they find magically and can carry with them for the rest of their lives. Making friends and memories that last and inform their thinking about their lives and futures.
In an increasingly globalized world, students need more than good grades to be competitive when it comes to their careers. Time studying abroad can provide additional skills that are attractive to employers and can boost job prospects upon graduation and beyond. These skills can be practical – foreign language skills – or qualitative – a capacity to adapt, problem solve, or think creatively.