If you are looking for ways to enhance your personal and professional development, or growth opportunities for your students, studying abroad is one of the best options. The impact of spending time in another country on one’s personality is enormous, especially when it occurs in the transformational context of education.
International educational experience develops several important versatile life skills. It expends cognitive skills like flexibility, creativity, and complex problem solving, and it also has a positive effect on social skills like empathy and tolerance.
It is not without costs. The process of personal development can be painful. The culture shock from the new environment may make you feel insecure and anxious because you are, for the first time, on unfamiliar ground. On the other hand, this is a start to gaining a new and expanded perspective, to become a more open-minded person.
When you are in a new culture, you need to deal with new ways of doing even small everyday things. You have to face new approaches to life and the world, cope with different languages, habits, and behaviors. Your brain is in an intensive action mode, because you are exposed to the new nearly every minute, so you can’t avoid thinking creatively, trying to solve new situations, reacting flexibly to upcoming challenges. This will also teach you, in a safe environment, how to manage stress.
One of the important aspects of study abroad experience is also a better understanding of yourself. In a different culture, your current stances, attitudes, and beliefs will be tested. It will allow you to explore which ones are actually truly yours and which were imposed by the culture and society in which you were raised. You will also start to better understand how other people feel when they are lost and insecure, since you will have experienced these feelings. This experience will make you act with more empathy and understanding; you will become a more tolerant person. Finally, another bonus of a successful trip to study or teach abroad is you will probably obtain a higher level of self-confidence because you overcame your fears and survived!
If you are interested in learning more about the impact of spending some time abroad, there are several studies on this topic. For example an article in Harvard Business Review talks about the effects on developing a clearer sense of self through international experience. The well-known European international education exchange program called Erasmus+ has published several reports on the effects of the mobility on skills of its participants.
Whether you are looking for international opportunities for your students or yourself, there are many options today to participate in education exchanges. There are international programs for high school students as well as students at colleges and universities, and you can also find offers for teachers, researchers, artists, and public administrators. Some programs are organized by nonprofit or for-profit agencies, some by educational institutions themselves. Just start searching.
Will your next school year be abroad?
Jakub Tesar has worked as an EducationUSA adviser in the Czech-American Fulbright Commission in Prague, Czech Republic. Currently he serves as the head of Higher Education Department at DZS, the Czech national agency for international cooperation in education.