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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.