Study abroad forces us to learn, grow as people and students

Mark Hammontree

Living for a time in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar customs forces us into a rare vulnerability that can frighten us, but even more so fill us with a sense of understanding, of ourselves and of others. We come to understand that differences between two places, two people, two cultures, are more telling of what is shared than what is separate.

Traveling then is an avenue for learning, for study, and it is the aspect of travel that makes a study abroad program so enriching. If your main concern with a study abroad program is taking interesting-sounding courses, you miss the point. The place and time you find yourself in is as important to the study abroad experience as the classes themselves.

That being said, if you are seeking nothing more from a study abroad program than an excuse to vacation to foreign countries and to check off locations and tours from your bucket list, you may find yourself returning home with nothing more than a Facebook album of photos and a suitcase of souvenirs. The program is and should be first and foremost educational. You waste your time and you cheat yourself if you do not step off the plane ready and willing to learn and grow from both the teachers and the other students and locals that you interact with.

Study abroad programs offer invaluable opportunities to be exposed to the things you’re passionate about in environments UA classrooms could never replicate. How can I fully relay the value of studying Shakespeare in Oxford or the gift of watching his works performed in his hometown of Stratford or at the Globe in London? Those experiences make a notoriously dense subject come alive and open up in ways a fall or spring semester course at the Capstone would be hard-pressed to do. My courses and experiences this summer will no doubt yield fruit for years to come in my life and in future classrooms of my own whether I am teaching Shakespeare or not.

Because while the subjects you study have value in themselves, it is the act of learning, whether in a classroom in Oxford, in a pub in London or in a dorm kitchen, that holds the real value. Learning changes us, and it changes our view of what’s around us, and it does so only ever for the better.

To appropriate for my own purposes from Hamlet’s best known soliloquy, we study to learn, to learn perchance to grow. Ay, there’s the rub. The end goal of any form of study should be that we are changed when we come out the other side, that our capacity of understanding of ourselves and our world has grown a bit bigger. Studying abroad should result in no less a change; rather, a more dramatic change is to be expected.

Find a program that excites you, then, whether it is for a month of your summer or for an entire semester. Whether it takes you to Oxford, Paris, China or Cuba. The destination is secondary to the journey, as it is the journey that will change you for the better.

Mark Hammontree is a junior majoring in secondary ?education.