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Empathy Abroad: How International Education Opened My Mind

by Ginette Andre
Empathy Abroad: How International Education Opened My Mind | AIFS Study Abroad

Last Updated on June 21, 2019 by Ginette Andre

This week is International Education Week. How do you define education? Teachers in a classroom? Lessons taught by parents? Learning through experience?

I personally think education takes place in and out of the classroom. Some lessons are taught by a teacher with a whiteboard, some are figured out through a parent’s advice, and some are learned from experiences, mistakes, and successes. My study abroad experience has revealed itself to be the time when I have grown immensely and learned some of the most important life lessons.

I have simultaneously discovered how to be independent while living with ten other girls. I have figured out how to budget my money, while living life to the fullest. I now understand how to decipher train schedules and read a map to find my way around a new city. These seem like simple skills, but they are not necessarily taught in a classroom. Along with all these, I am most excited to be educated on the world around me, and it is something I think everyone should be doing as well.

With the current state of the world, it is important to understand the cultures surrounding us. We hear of stories based thousands of miles away. We sympathize, yet we don’t fully understand the extent of what they are going through. It is one thing to hear about the earthquakes in Italy, but it is quite another thing to see the effect it had on the area in person. The difference is eye-opening. This type of education is one that can only be learned through getting out and experiencing the world. I’d like to share a few personal examples.

Empathy Abroad: How International Education Opened My Mind | International Education WeekI am on the AIFS intramural soccer team. In each match, we get a new teammate who is a refugee. It is an amazing program that integrates these refugees into the culture and people of Italy with the worldwide language of soccer. I’ve heard their stories, and I am blown away at what they have been through, especially compared to what I consider my “toughest times.” Everyone has struggles, this does not deserve to be undermined, but an understanding of what other people go through in the world around us gives us a better appreciation for the lives we lead.

One of the reasons why Oktoberfest was the best day of my life was—no, not the beer—the people I met. I sat at a long table for five hours while the people around me either stayed, or came and went. I met a happy couple on their honeymoon, an Australian backpacking across Europe to get a break from his job, someone home from deployment in the Navy and deciding to spend it in a giant tent with strangers and his new fiancé, and so many more. The vast range of characters I observed and life experiences I heard in one day is more than some people may have heard in a lifetime.

An understanding of the world around you means an understanding of your place in it. Education is not limited to learning classroom studies of facts and figures; it includes an appreciation of the struggles some people go through to get jobs, or the obstacles a refugee faces while trying to make a new life. It is also respecting that everyone is different; we see the world in different ways and we experience it differently. “Respect for thy neighbor,” may be a lesson we are taught in school but one not truly learned until we understand it for ourselves. Studying abroad has provided that opportunity for me.

So take this week to learn a new fact, to hear some advice from an elder, and to meet someone new, with your mind open to hear his or her story.

This post was contributed by Ginette Andre, who is spending her semester studying abroad with AIFS in Florence, Italy.

Empathy Abroad: How International Education Opened My Mind | AIFS Study Abroad

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