Study abroad can take away from education

Senior year of high school during winter break, I spent three days blinking away the tiredness in my eyes as I cranked out and perfected the last of my college applications. Four months later, I matriculated at the University.

The last thing I want to do is cut my time short here because I know how hard I had to work to receive that admissions packet sealed in an orange envelope.

Yet 27 percent of the University’s students will choose to study abroad during their college years. According to U.S. News and World Report, Illinois is the 61st best university in the world, and more than a third of the schools that ranked higher are in the United States. The chances that a student studying abroad will attend one of those schools in the upper echelon are slim.

Students studying abroad will likely attend a university far worse than ours, unless of course, they enroll at Oxford or Kyoto.

Proponents of studying abroad will argue that academic rigor isn’t important because when in another country, the most important material learned is outside the classroom. I won’t disagree there because I’ve found my jobs and extracurricular activities to be just as enlightening as my course work. The difference is, at the University I am taking an upper-level political science class instead of Alpine snowflake appreciation.

Perhaps the most compelling argument study-abroad supporters will use to persuade others to jet off to Prague or Paris for four months is how great it will look on a resume. How “I played in a fountain in Rome and ate delicious sweets in Salamanca” is more impressive on a resume than “I earned an A in advanced statistics” will forever escape me.

Then there are those who will say studying in another country shows employers how flexible and adaptable a student is to alien situations and experiences. Asking where the bathroom is in English while traveling through Berlin is just a little less impressive than juggling heavy course loads with two part-time jobs and a leadership position in a campus organization. But only a little.

Some students will choose to go abroad during college because they want to immerse themselves in a culture unlike any other. If a new culture is what students are looking for, they should look no farther than applying for inner-city jobs. That’s an immersion experience far different from the comforts of western Chicago suburbia.

While there in the inner city, helping to improve the disadvantaged and most impoverished citizens of this country, experience the lack of English and the pervasion of Spanish, Polish and Italian. Or maybe you could try living in an apartment without heat in the winter and adapting to a way of life that so many nonprofits and charities work tirelessly to reverse every day.

Quite possibly, a student is looking to improve his language skills. For example, the most commonly sought after study-abroad spot at the University is Spain. Assuming students opt for this country because they want to practice what they learned in their Spanish minor, they should look no farther than Champaign’s Spanish-speaking community.

Even if a student went to Spain to practice a newly acquired language, they probably won’t be able to use it anyway. Try walking into a cafe in Barcelona and asking for a cup of tea — “Me gustaria una copa de te” — and the response will likely be, “Would you like to try our new green tea?” In English.

Even at that extent, the most popular destination country among students in the United States isn’t even a country that speaks a foreign language — it’s the United Kingdom.

Now, I’m not naive enough to ignore that so many who go abroad say they don’t regret doing it and how it was such a wonderful experience. Traveling to Rome or Cairo is full of wonder, beauty and awe. Some, when they study abroad, may actually enroll in a top University and focus strictly on their studies, enriching an already impressive education.

I guess I can understand where these students are coming from when they say studying abroad for a semester was the greatest experience of their lives. I mean, I would too, if I frolicked through Europe instead of burying my nose in a book.

_Ryan is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]_