News / USA

US Students Bond with Locals While Studying Abroad

Young people being pushed out out of comfort zone to fully experience other cultures

Dr.  William Finlay (seated right) on a hike with a study-abroad group in South Africa.
Dr. William Finlay (seated right) on a hike with a study-abroad group in South Africa.

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

Each year, about a quarter of a million Americans study abroad. For many of them, a summer or a semester in a foreign country involves more than just sitting in classrooms and hanging out with other American students. Instead, they are required to be involved in the local communities where they are studying.

On his first morning in Beijing, one American study-abroad student was dropped off in a distant part of the Chinese capital with $5 and instructions to find his way back home on his own. It took a while, but he made it.

That’s one example of how American students are being pushed out of their ‘comfort zone’ in order to fully experience another culture.

“It’s absolutely crucial that they know something about how people in other parts of the world live and think and how they behave," says William Finlay, head of the sociology department at the University of Georgia. “Often those students go in large groups. They hang around each other. We felt that they really weren’t getting to know the local inhabitants as well as they could.”

In 2008, he co-founded a study abroad program with South Africa’s Stellenbosch University. It combines traditional academic in-class learning with community involvement. The program partners with a local NGO which runs daycare centers for children of working parents and a library with computers available for patrons to use.

"Our students typically work either with the little kids in the day cares or they work in the library and teach basic computer skills to mostly young adults,” says Finlay.

Having an impact

The three-week program proved to be a transformative experience for Hillary Kinsey.

“It was interesting to learn the history of the area and the recent development with democracy and that sort of thing," she says, "and then talk to these people and see what the social dynamics were, what the ethnic divisions were, how certain groups felt about other groups.”

Study abroad students Ben Valerio and Hillary Kinsey at the Siyazingcy Creche, a daycare center in South Africa.
Study abroad students Ben Valerio and Hillary Kinsey at the Siyazingcy Creche, a daycare center in South Africa.

When the international affairs major returned from South Africa a few weeks ago, she and other students in the program established a non-profit.

“We called it ’Ubuntu,’  which is a South African concept coined by Desmond Toto," she explains. "It means ‘I am, because we are.’ The idea is based around the relationships within the society and what generates prosperity for all. We took that notion and translated it into a larger international community.”

The group hopes to contribute to advancing education and development in South Africa.

“We have a lot of people that did not go to South Africa, but they are interested in this," she says. "And one of the purposes of our organization is that we hope to raise money and awareness for the situation of these people and try to facilitate building daycares there and helping to promote any sort of educational development we could through donations and fundraisers and that sort of thing.”

Intensive approach

While many study abroad programs focus on helping Americans learn foreign languages, others take a more intensive approach.

“In all of our locations, we place students with local roommates," says Mark Lenhart, executive director of CET Academic Programs. The organization sends more than 1,000 students to China, Jordan, the Czech Republic and other countries each year.

Study abroad students (from left) Gina Nuccio, Hillary Kinsey and Alyssa Crosby dance with Zulu musicians and performers wearing traditional tribal clothing.
Study abroad students (from left) Gina Nuccio, Hillary Kinsey and Alyssa Crosby dance with Zulu musicians and performers wearing traditional tribal clothing.

He says American students benefit from such one-on-one interactions, in spite of the challenges they face.

“Not just in terms of language learning, but they also find the local culture can present challenges, and perhaps misunderstandings," Lenhart says. "They have to adjust to local life. It’s no longer okay just to have a little Chinese, for instance. If the student is studying Chinese, they want to come home from a program like this fluent in Chinese. So this will enable students to become more employable when they graduate.”

Going global

Preparing American students to be more competitive in the global job market is one of the goals of the recent trends in study abroad.

Allen Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, which promotes educational exchange, says study abroad also prepares young people to become global citizens.

“You really can’t have that global citizen perspective by just reading a book or just connecting to someone who lives in Egypt on the Internet," Goodman says. "You have to go and see the reality of another place. That’s what study abroad promotes.”

He predicts study abroad programs will continue to evolve and attract more students who find it to be a unique and valuable opportunity to learn about themselves and the world in which they live.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid