University student Jessica Kramlinger (front left) enjoys dinner in the Touba Holy City with classmates from the Cheik Anta Diop University in Dakar.
Studying abroad in challenging times: Students help bring the world together
Students help bring the world together
By Jamie Proulx
From M, winter 2005; originally published on November 5, 2004
The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence, but it might look different, feel different, and change your impression of that other side. And that kind of bold exploration is what study abroad students do so well.
Each year, more than 1,200 University of Minnesota students study in more than 80 countries on six continents. In addition to learning about their new surroundings and culture, these students become de facto ambassadors for the United States. That role of ambassador has new meaning in today's global climate.
Following September 11, 2001, the world community displayed a sense of togetherness unlike anything many had experienced. Since then, new battle lines have been drawn, literally, around the world. Might students studying abroad help soften those lines and bridge culture gaps? Many experts believe they can, including former vice-president Walter Mondale, who spoke on this subject at a national conference held last spring at the University of Minnesota.
Mondale appealed directly to educators and administrators, encouraging them to support the study abroad experience. "We must consistently be trying to expand our circle of friends and allies," Mondale said. "But to do this, we must learn and understand others--and of course that's why your work is so important. There is absolutely nothing more crucial than the dramatic expansion of international scholarship."
In addition to learning about their new surroundings and culture, these students become de facto ambassadors for the United States.Today's generation of study abroad travelers are making their choices well aware of the new world they live in. According to Lynn Anderson, who studied abroad during the Vietnam War and is associate director of the Learning Abroad Center, today's students understand that their mission includes much more than trying new foods and learning new languages.
"On the afternoon of 9/11 our office was full of students wanting information about studying abroad," Anderson says. "They felt that America didn't get into this position because we knew too much about other countries, but rather because we knew too little."
She saw a new spirit develop in students who believed Americans had to know more about their world. "We have students who want to learn Arabic, and learn more about the Middle East and other hot spots around the world," says Anderson.
When asked about new dangers or security concerns, Anderson points out that although her office has always made the health and safety of students a number one priority, determining which programs are appropriate for students is a now a University-wide effort. "Prior to 9/11 we made decisions within our office about where students could or could not study abroad," Anderson says. "Now, we craft recommendations which are then sent to a committee of representatives from the University's Office of the General Counsel, health sciences, and student affairs for final approval."
For more information on studying abroad, visit the Learning Abroad Center in Room 230 Heller Hall on the Twin Cities campus's West Bank, or call 612-626-9000.