A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article written by a Duke visiting professor questions the value of study abroad programs. He rightly cites the lack of academic rigor at many of them, particularly those that take place in the summer, or that allow the students to live among other Americans. He quotes a student who says, “For many students, study abroad is a semester off, not a semester on.”
I say, “So what?” I cannot imagine a more valuable learning experience than living for a few months in a different country, even if one does have the comfort and familiarity of a roommate from Topeka. And I’ll wager that the lessons learned will linger longer than much of what is on offer in the lecture halls back home.
Elizabeth spent last spring in NYU’s program in Prague. And, yes, the academic demands were relatively unstrenuous. But here are some of things she learned:
She learned about the Velvet Revolution, and was able to see the landmarks and talk with some of the participants. This will form the basis of her senior thesis in history. She learned enough Czech to make very small small talk. She shopped in a grocery store every day and did her own cooking. She almost got arrested for an out-of-date transit pass. She learned to like beer. She communicated her earache well enough to a pharmacist to get medicine for it. She wrote travel articles and had a review of a Czech burger restaurant published. She visited museums and churches and castles and took weekend jaunts to Rome, London, Berlin, Switzerland and the Czech countryside. She waved a little American flag as she saw Barack Obama speak in the city square. As a parent, I gladly paid tuition for this, and I can’t think of a semester that has been more worthwhile, learning-wise or otherwise.