Study abroad helps education and mojo

The Daily Illini “published”: “Study abroad can take away from education” on the negative educational impact going abroad has. As someone who’s gone overseas, I’m majorly biased. I’m also majorly in disagreement.

Just to be clear: I’m not here to fight the writer, Ryan Weber, to the death with my words or blast him in some kind of weird columnist duel. Besides the fact that he’s entitled to his own thoughts, I do agree with him on something interesting that he said: There are tons of ways to gain diversity in other areas of the United States. We’re lucky to be around a city, like Chicago, that gives us a rich learning base.

Still. I can’t imagine that studying abroad takes away from education in the least bit because I’ve seen so many examples of success stories.

Take, for instance, one of my best friends. A true travel junkie, she studied abroad for a year. Besides learning how to appreciate Swedish cuisines and snuggling up in five blankets a night (apparently Sweden is cold?), she took some interesting classes for her major. From learning about food sustainability, to hearing about the KONY 2012 debate from someone close in the movement, she was able to fill her head with awe-inspiring things and take some challenging classes that gave her University credit.

Education, check. I don’t know if her university was any better or worse than this University, but it doesn’t matter. She went. She learned. She conquered.

In addition to the academic side, there’s also the personal change that can happen when people leave here. Not the “dear God, he just came back from Cambodia, and now he thinks he’s the most interesting man in the world” change. But the fascinating change that allows you to learn something about yourself.

One of my other best friends left, just for a semester. An already awesome guy, he came back kind of different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, until one day, I saw him interact with others at a party. It wasn’t that his clothes were too different or that his humor had changed. He came back with confidence. He was packing swag.

One of the most amazing things to me is how people can come back changed for the better. Now, one could argue that you could have a total “ah-ha!” moment in one of your classes here or experience a confidence boost in C-U. But the thing is, the point of study abroad is that it gets you out of your comfort zone. Once you get past that point, you can truly examine yourself and other ways of learning.

There’s got to be a reason why we’re ranked 14th in sending students across the ponds — it’s good for the mind and soul. Plus, 27 percent of our students study abroad — roughly 10,000 kids. There can’t be 10,000 kids who have escaped to Spain or France or China without gaining some sort of learning: academic, intrapersonal or both.

And then there’s me. I’m somewhat wary to compare experience to other students’. My time in Turkey was more of a bite-sized journey because I only stayed there for 17 days in the summer. I didn’t even enroll in a different university.

However, I went with a University journalism class, and I worked my butt off to produce stories for The New York Times’ international blog, the International Herald Tribune. I may not have taken a micro course to get rid of that pesky econ credit, but I talked to all sorts of people, interviewed jailed journalists, went to the Turkey-Syria border — and along the way got published. Not only was it an amazing trip, but it was the biggest learning experience I’ve ever had and one I would have missed out on if I didn’t leave C-U.

Wherever you go, you learn. If you make the most of your activities, you learn. It doesn’t matter what university you go to, where you are or how hard your class is — you’re going to soak up knowledge how you want to soak it up, regardless if you’re doing nonprofit work in Chicago, taking a class on child development in Ecuador or comforting refugees in Hatay, Turkey.

Tolu is a senior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]