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Why I Believe in International Education and Study Abroad

by Otso Castrén
Why I Believe in International Education and Study Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Salzburg, Austria

An international education is one of the most important things anybody can and should do during their years of schooling. If history, and the current political climate of the world, has shown anything at all, it is that the world goes ever forward on this path of international relations. Globalization, for all the opposition that this word gets, is the way that the countries of the world need and should work towards. It is here to stay; it is the future.

And so, as millions of young men and women come upwards in the path of education in their respective countries (be it the United States, France, Tunisia, or Russia), it is of upmost importance to experience the working arounds of the greater world stage around them.

I myself have already received such a baptism: my family and I moved over 4000 miles from our quite quiet Espoo, Finland to the bustling United States capital of Washington, D.C. It has now been over a decade of gaining and learning a great amount as a result of growing up in the suburbs of D.C. This has, of course, been aided by my father’s job in the international sector, specifically in The World Bank Group. I have been molded by my experiences in having peers within the WBG that are from as varied backgrounds as Kenya, Argentina, and Indonesia, and everything in between. The world is much larger, greater, and better than any of us can truly realize if we stay within the confines of our home nations or states.

Even with my world dipped in to this canvas of multiculturalism and international cooperation, it had always been my great wish to be able to study abroad in a country that I have had no prior connection to. An experience that would be in all its different facets a brand new one for me, and one that would allow me to deepen my understanding of nations around the globe and satiate my curiosity as to the diverse ways people go about their lives. Austria was a wonderful choice for a number of reasons, such as:

  1. Living in a country with a language that I did not know beforehand
  2. Understanding a culture and people that are many times compared with their bigger and older cousins just north (something that I discovered was problematic for the people themselves!)
  3. Experiencing a physical, natural world unlike anything that was within my reach — both in Finland and the United States

International education is gained from everywhere and everything — it comes from all around as we traverse the world.

Simply keeping one’s eyes open to the ways and traditions of the local populace in a new place can teach so much. No two nations are alike, and so even if a certain trait, tradition, or cultural norm is shared, the variations amongst countries make it worth one’s while to be mindful of the differences. An international education allows you to learn both commonplace and high-level cultural differences. An example could be of the way you conduct business or the way you greet someone. Do you go for a kiss on each cheek, a firm handshake with eyes meeting clearly, or go straight for a bear hug? 

The nations of the world are very different from each other. No American would see themselves as Canadian even though they both speak English, share a border, and are immense partners in economic and cultural terms. And vice versa. Don’t even get me started on confusing the Nordic countries; the Finn and Swede would be having a go at it outside, the Dane and Norwegian would be shouting at each other incoherently and throwing fish, and the Icelandic would be glaring at everyone whilst munching on fermented shark — and that is only when somebody happened to say that they seem like copies of each other. What this is trying to say is that if nothing else, an international education helps people to understand cultures not of their own and defy expected stereotypes, for there is always something to learn or to understand.

International education will not solely solve the world’s problems between different cultures and people. Nor is it meant to. But it is meant to bridge that gap, even if ever so slightly, and can make more rounded people out of children and students, the exact ones who will one day lead their countries.

J. William Fulbright once said about international education that it is “the most significant project designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to a point…that men can live in peace – even to cooperate.” I feel as if he was on to something there. Bears to keep it in mind.

This post was contributed by Otso Castrén, who is spending his fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in Salzburg, Austria.

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