The saying goes that you can only truly understand yourself when you see yourself through someone else’s eyes. The same stands true on a global level. The increase in generation Y’s interest in studying and working abroad is not only a great opportunity to see what life is like outside the subdivision fences but also a chance to shine some light on how the US appears in the global field. Last week, Jeffrey Bartholet and Daniel Stone wrote an article in Newsweek about the number of members of Obama’s administration that have lived and worked abroad, including our Commander-in-Chief himself, his roots deeply seeded in an international family tree.
I had the fortunate opportunity to study abroad in London in 2005. Along with plenty of time touring the pubs of Kensington and Chelsea, and poking around the city with a great group of people, I was able to travel and explore the UK, Ireland, and France. But perhaps due to my naivety to international culture and global relations (I was only 19 when I went, without much interest in politics or world news) I lacked the eye and attitude needed to truly embrace and learn from the experience of living abroad. I also clung to my fear of the uncertain when deciding where to study; choosing a country that spoke my language and who’s culture is in line with American. Now, 4 years later and 4 years wiser and 4 years more aware, I watch everyday for an opportunity to arise for me to live abroad again, with some changes. I think a more life-changing experience for me would be set in a culture far difference from what I am used to everyday. London gave me the confidence to know that I can live comfortably on the other side of the ocean from my family and friends, but to truly see the vast range of cultures and values around the world, something outside my comfort zone would be more beneficial.
I may not have a living abroad options in the near future but I will be able to live vicariously and learn through my friends and family that will have that opportunity. When Doc departs for his grand excursion in the Peace Corp, I will be able to go visit him in the South Pacific, see what work he is doing, and get the tour from an expat. My sister is planning her last two years of college around a semester studying sociology in Ghana. I have always said that my dream is to visit Africa, because I see their culture as the most extreme and most difficult to understand and I want so badly to feel what it feels to live so differently from the comforts of home. I plan on visiting her as well to learn from her chance to study culture in the field. Lucky girl!
It is unquestionably true that when you have an international awareness from first-hand experiences interacting with different people and cultures, you come to understand more thoroughly what differences are evident, what ideas are universal and which are cultural. You also have the opportunity from talking with other people, to see what the view of your own culture looks like from the eyes of an outside. And as you develop relationships with these new friends, you discover that their opinions are worth being compassionate towards, no longer veiled in ignorance. These values are exactly what Americans need to better interact in an increasingly global world. The fact that so many politicians that will be representing America in the global ring have these experiences under their belt and in their minds is a refreshing and progressive aspect to our political system. Hopefully the number of students that are open and able to study abroad will continue to increase so as a new generation fills the white house desks, our views will become more and more open to new ideas from around the world.