Studying abroad is like jumping off the pages of a favorite novel and experiencing the hodgepodge of images that have been left for us to form ourselves, or so I would imagine. I have never been abroad physically, although my mind has been there many times. I have made predictions about what it would be like to walk the English countryside, cross the Galway Bay to the Aran Islands and even dodge bullets in Kabul during the Soviet invasion. The way I see it, what good is a prediction without a means of verification? The more I read, the more I long to be immersed in the culture of my favorite characters from world literature. But this is only the spark that ignited the fire.
Why study abroad?
There are obvious advantages to studying in another country. For example, academic credit is always a good thing, not to mention the boost it gives to your resume. It is the perfect tool for individual improvement. However, I am more interested in the real life experience. I studied French for three semesters, and there is nothing I would like to do more than plunge into the raw and uncensored culture of France. I studied British Literature, which was fascinating, but it would be nothing compared to visiting the places where the stories were written. I have assumptions about what I think Spain looks like or what Italy smells like; however, being able to say I know would be much more satisfying. It will lead to the debunking of stereotypes and the widening of horizons. However, that is only the beginning.
Studying abroad prepares students for today's global world by adding value to their education, allowing them to earn credit abroad, enhancing employability, improving intercultural competence, heightening intercultural communication skills, and giving students access to new information, technologies, and skills. The University of Illinois' Strategic Plan guides our thinking about how we engage the world and take students to it. The plan asserts that "college is a critical time to ensure an educational experience that prepares students for lives of impact and leadership in an increasingly diverse, globalized world." To do so, we must "address critical societal needs through the transfer and application of knowledge." As we strive to develop into the nation's preeminent public research university, we believe we have a responsibility to introduce students to the world, ensuring that our students have opportunities to learn about any region of the world, especially as it informs their academic and professional goals.
There are numerous opportunities for students to engage in international study at the University of Illinois including research abroad, courses abroad, travel abroad with Registered Student Organizations, faculty-led study tours, and participation in one of more than 350 approved study abroad programs in over 60 countries.
Even if your desire to study abroad does not emerge from an imagination inspired by the world of fiction like mine did, it will be a life experience that will serve you well. From practical rewards like resume building and academic credit to spiritual transformations like self-fulfillment and the sharing of knowledge, studying abroad will certainly change you, and you will become a better person. And, by creating better people, we will inevitably create a better world.