Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Colgate study-abroad destinations

I knew that one of the ‘to-do’s on campus is to go to President Herbst’s office hours, which is why I chose to check that off the Colgate bucket list last Wednesday.  When answering my question regarding his goals for Colgate right now, President Herbst said that one of his main priorities is diversifying the destinations that people have for study-abroad groups. 

In fact, the destination of study-abroad semesters has often been a topic of conversation lately. The language professors to whom I have spoken commented on the fact that few students choose to step out of their comfort zone, and go to North-Africa or Latin-America to study French or Spanish, and instead go to France or Spain. Older students were also complaining about how much more difficult it is to get a non-Colgate program to a developing country, approved.

Going on a study-abroad should mean, in my opinion, having access to a culture which would otherwise be hidden. What is the purpose of leaving your country and going to a place where people enjoy the same type of entertainment, have a similar social etiquette and behavior, and ascribe to the same mentality? Of course, what you see is different, the history and literature of the place are different, but you are a lot more likely to experience a cultural shock in Morocco, for example, than you are in Paris. French people attempting to kiss you on the cheek for three times might slightly throw you off, but that’s about it. 

We leave in an era of globalization, in which cultures mingle and mix. This is why I believe that we should reach out for the cultures which are left as intact as possible, because the purpose of a study-abroad should be being educated in a way you couldn’t at your own institution: going well beyond the academics, into cultural, behavioral and anthropological areas. 
Stepping out of our comfort zones should be able to make us more culturally-aware people, more understanding and welcoming of other people’s differences. It is the experiences we will have in completely different countries that will blow our minds and open our horizons, which is why we should not choose the easy way out by going to a Western destination.

I believe President Herbst’s initative is amazing, and I hope the study-group destinations diversify during my time at Colgate. 

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