- Posted March 16, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama
Why study abroad?
“Why study abroad and learn another culture? What is the point? This question is very common and sometimes not taken too positively. There is, however, a beauty to the answer of this question. The beauty is this: The answer, the reason differs from individuals to individuals. What I learn and take out from my experience may be different to yours, but you will never know your own reasons unless you try to unfold that story. The beauty lies in what and how you want to learn. What I can do is share what I have learned through my own experiences, to help give you a glimpse of the possibilities you may have if you decide to take that step into a new journey.
I am currently a senior at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul, in Minnesota; majoring in Intercultural Studies with a Chinese Studies minor. With the help of being a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, I was able to be part of a 2 months Overseas Intercultural Studies Internship to Asia in the Fall of 2013; along with 12 other students, our trip leader, and his co-leader. This trip, though required for my major, was one I am glad to have been part of. The primary purposes of this internship were to plug us, college students, into the real lives of cultures different from our own. To realize and learn that what we read in our textbooks and what we think does not equal reality.
On this trip I learned how to efficiently cross cultural boundaries and create authentic relationships with the host culture. Academically, I learned that our presumptions of people can be so skewed, and to really know a culture, I needed to know the people personally. I learned that I can apply all the anthropological and cultural knowledge I have learned all I want, but it will not prevent me from making mistakes. Instead, this knowledge allows me to see and learn from my mistakes.
To help us learn about the host cultures, my (the whole team’s) main outlet was teaching English. In China I, along with my team, were teacher assistants for a few different university English teachers. We provided help in leading discussions, challenged students to test their English progress, and became their opportunity to practice what they have set to study.
In Thailand, I taught 2 English classes on my own, and almost daily. Students paid money for the courses I taught, and so I learned how to not just teach from a book, but I learned how to use my surroundings to make learning easier. I learned how my students interacted with each other and used their personalities to benefit their learning. Teaching requires focus, organization, adaptability, and importantly learning. As I taught, I continued to learn in as many aspects as I could. I learn what was acceptable culturally, I learned how and why students would not interact the way I expected them to, I learned the morals and values they held important. I learned how to add their culture, their lives into the classroom, to make their learning personal. Along with teaching English to my students, outside classroom interactions were very important as we were able to pass the teacher-student boundaries and become good friends (I should also note that my students were all adult professional people who were older than me).
This is only a fraction of everything that happened to me within 2 months. I learned so much more about my passion and fields of study within 2 months in another culture, than I did in years of classroom learning. Not saying it was a waste, what I learned in school prepared me and allowed me to search for my passion. They brought me to the threshold of the real experience. But to really and truly understand certain things, we have to live it.
Studying abroad opens doors and opens your mind to so many perspectives. Even if you hated the trip, you come back someone who has learned and grown. There are many things I can say about how learning another culture in another country can be beneficial, but it really comes down to what you want to learn and how intentional you are about learning. The biggest thing I learned from this trip was who I am. As an Asian-American, I learned about where my cultural roots and values came from through the interactions with native Chinese and Thai people in their home culture. At the same time I learned how much my American culture has an effect on how I see things, do things, how it effects my beliefs, and much more. I learned that both cultures make up who I am, and instead of trying to hide one or the other, I learned that both are equally important to me. I can embrace both sides and use them to continue learning about others.