I still find it hard to believe that I have been studying abroad for two months now. I can honestly say that I have had the time of my life, and I have grown so much from this experience.
In honor of International Education Week, I would like to take the time to write a few reasons as to why I feel it is important to have cultural exchange and access to international education.
1. You connect with people from around the world.
I feel that international education is important, because it is a way to connect to people all around the world. Not only have I made friends from all over the United States, but I have also made friends in all of the places that I have traveled thus far.
They say that the people you meet abroad will be the ones you will hold the closest to your heart for the rest of your life, and I am really starting to believe that. Of course when you are leaving the country on your own for the first time, you will be nervous and think negatively. I think a common thought is that you will not make any friends, but the truth is, that you will make more friends than you could ever imagine.
As a Communications major, I know the importance of connecting to people and how that connection plays a huge role in your life. International education and cultural exchange allows you to meet and connect with people, outside of the world that you have grown to know so well. These opportunities help you learn that despite the world being as large as it is, and containing as many people as it does, you will still be able to find a way to connect with them and to build on friendships that will last a life time.
2. There’s immersion and exposure to new and different cultures.
“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Not only are you making a connection with the people around the world, but you are getting the opportunity to learn about their culture. I think of the international students that I have met at my school in Chicago; when I meet them for the first time they are so curious to know more about my culture and my history and background. Granted, I feel as though I have little to talk about compared to them, but I still find a way to capture their interests.
Now that I have had the opportunity to study abroad and to learn of the Italian culture, I see why it is so important for us to continue to ask questions and to learn as much as we can.
People are so proud of where they come from and what their culture has to offer. I feel as though I have always taken my culture for granted and never truly appreciated what made it so special. International education has really helped me learn and truly understand why it is important to continue to teach people and to learn from them as well about the different cultures.
3. You can really make a difference.
I have had the opportunity to teach children English at an Italian school while studying abroad. I have learned a lot about the Italian schooling system and have compared it to the system back in America.
I have found it very interesting that here, in Italy, they are very straightforward with the students. I have made jokes that if a teacher were to approach me at that age with such a strict tone, I would break down and cry, unlike the students I have gotten to know. Granted, I may not know what the teachers are saying most of the time, but when they yell, I can only imagine that it is something scary.
Now don’t get me wrong, yes they yell, but they also have this sort of mothering nature toward the children as well. When a student is feeling sick, they will take them into their arms and kiss their forehands and tell them that it will be alright. Some students will become saddened because they are missing home, and the teachers will feel bad, so they will hug them and assure them that they will see their family soon.
My favorite part of this experience, thus far, was helping a young boy with his English homework. He was having a really hard time trying to figure it out, and I sat down with him and helped him to become less frustrated with himself, and not to get down because he was not picking it up as fast as the other students. Once he got a little extra help, he was getting a lot better, and you could see his confidence growing. At the end, he showed me his homework, and I told him that he did an excellent job and that I was really proud of him. He had a huge smile on his face and then he gave me the biggest hug I have ever received and a small kiss on the cheek.
I will never forget the moment, because it was so special to me.
I have really enjoyed witnessing what it is like to teach here and how the students are different from the ones back in my home. I think this is important to understand and to bring back to where you come from, because we can all learn a thing or two.
So far, my study abroad experience has been nothing but extraordinary. I have made friends that will last a lifetime, I have learned more about the culture of Europe than I could ever imagine, and I have memories that I hold dear to my heart.
I would not change this experience for the world, and I hope that others will take up this opportunity so they can also see the world and discover what is out there!