Why study abroad?
According to an article by Gail Rosenblum published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune11 months ago, fewer and fewer high school students in the US participate in study abroad programs. In fact, during the same year (2009 - 2010), US students studying abroad totaled just under 2000 compared to more than 28,000 exchange students around the world who came to the US to study.
In Dreaming in French, Author Alice Kaplan writes about three important American women, Jackie Kennedy, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis, who chose to study in France as young adults and who were profoundly changed by their experience. In Kaplan's conclusion, she states that the year that these three women spent in Paris "gave each of these women a deep and lasting confidence confirmed their spirit of adventure and guaranteed their freedom from home constraints." Kaplan, a professor of French at Yale University, captures her own study abroad experience in French Lessons: A Memoir.
In my own experience, my semester abroad in Nantes, France in 1982 was a time I will never forget for so many reasons. I stayed with a dear family with whom I remain close today and to whom I pay visits each time I travel to France. This family is truly my French family. I began to refine my skills in French to a level I would not have otherwise attained had I chose to stay in the US to study. And, like the women in Dreaming in French, my experience confirmed in me that "spirit of adventure" that lead me to live in Cairo, Kuwait and back to France where I set up house in the 11th arrondissement in Paris. During my time in Paris, I traveled throughout Europe and even back to the continent of Africa with my now ex-husband, a pilot.
So, to get back to my original question, "Why study abroad?" Study abroad is an opportunity that should be embraced whenever it is offered - at the fifth grade as it is in the school where I teach, in high school or in college. The young person who is able to take advantage of this experience will have a rich experience to draw from as he or she continues as a student and down life's twisting, turning paths.