Education Abroad

I have been working on this really boring project at work. Basically we are installing a new database program for management of international student files, and as part of the program prep I had to go through all of our students files and cross-check their addresses, then update the current system and convert their “local” address to a new special address form called “IN” and then switch their “permanent address” back to their foreign address—an ongoing battle—since other university admins have different definitions of what “permanent address” means and are forever changing it (If anyone touches my changes I will hunt them down!!!) With nearly 650 students, and working on the project by myself, as well as having to meet with students for regular appointments, it took me the better part of 3 ½ weeks to complete. Today I finished the “Z’s” and I now realize just how many students have last names that start with “L,” “M,” “S,” “W,” “Y,” and “Z” (thank you China).

OnPointAnyway to keep myself sane while working on this (besides taking occasional breaks to peek at blogs) I have been listening to a lot of NPR (I could go on and on and on and on about the love I have for NPR, especially for WBUR, the awesome Boston NPR station I listened to before I even moved to New England). In particular I’ve been listening to archived broadcasts of one of my favorite programs, “On Point with Tom Ashbrook” (and no… he’s not my favorite just because his wife is also an international student advisor who I have done visa workshops with, but because he is totally awesome.)

Anyway, as I was finishing the “Z’s” today I started listening to an archived broadcast from back in July called “Global Students” and the intro on the website that caught my attention was this:

Everybody knows the straight and narrow, up-and-out formula for American success: good grades, good scores, good college, big debt … good luck.

My guests today, Maya and Tom Frost, say forget it. There’s a better way, they say. And the path leads abroad — early.

Stay home studying for SATs and taking on college debt, and you’re guaranteed nothing in this topsy-turvy economy. Go abroad — as early as high school, especially for college, they say — and you’ll find low tuitions, big adventures, and the future.

This hour, On Point: A new American way in the world. Going global, right from the start.

I really enjoyed the program and felt that these parents reflect a lot of my own feelings about education abroad. So I wanted to make sure I shared the program with you all. Feel free to listen to the streaming podcast HERE… it’s only 45 mins long.

When I was a kid I was dying to study abroad. I found out about the Rotary Youth Exchange program in high school and contacted the local chapter. My parents “went along with it” for a little while (probably hoping I’d lose interest or chicken out) until I started filling out applications to spend a year abroad. I think they were horrified (especially since I am the oldest sibling, so perhaps the “overprotective” parent syndrome was in full effect)… “you are too young!” “we only get to spend x amount of time with you before you go off into the world, we would rather you stay home…” “it is too expensive… we can’t afford it…” basically any excuse/explanation under the sun that they could give me to dissuade me from going. I applied to the program anyway, and once accepted my parents refused to pay anything and contacted the local Rotary coordinator to tell them to stop encouraging me to do something they refused to allow. Instead, one of my best friends in high school who found out about the program through me applied and spent a year in Hungary. I was so jealous.

Then I found out about the amazing school program called the “United World Colleges.” I was encouraged to apply through a leadership program I was involved in, and I was ecstatic. This was the very type of educational program I was interested in… I sent off my application (are you noticing a pattern?) and again my parents refused. They wouldn’t allow me to go to the required interview and thus I was automatically disqualified. It didn’t matter that I could get a full scholarship to go to the school, or what educational opportunities might have come out of it. As a university student I ran into other “UWC” students and I couldn’t help but wonder what high school would have been like if I was encouraged rather than discouraged to do these sorts of programs.


Yes, I am a total study abroad geek. This is me and my Maasai homestay "mother" in rural southern Kenya. I was living with the community (staying in the mud and cow dung huts behind) and dressed in traditional Maasai clothing for an age-set graduating ceremony. I was also thoroughly burnt to a crisp at the end of the day.

When I had my first chance, and my parents didn’t have too much control over my choices, I signed up right away to study abroad… second semester freshman year I was off to France (and Senegal in West Africa). Ever since then I have been eager to jump at any international opportunities I can find. I love everything about traveling… the planning, the prep work, the plane ride (even the plane food, believe it or not), the new experiences, the language, the food, the culture, the eye opening exchanges… everything!! (need I go on?) I’ve made international education a career… and I am even completing a master’s degree in the field.

Anyway, I guess I can kind of understand my parents concerns… here was this wacky high school kid, full of enthusiasm to travel to some unknown possibly scary or dangerous place. I grew up in a sheltered little town, what did I know about the world? They must have thought I was crazy.

But regardless, I have connected with the world in my own way… through travel, through my work with international students, through my intercultural relationship, through my interest in reading world literature and armchair travel books, the list goes on… I hope to continue feeling this passion for “global knowledge” and I hope to be the kind of parent interviewed in the On Point broadcast. I just hope I don’t wind up with kids who hate to travel… then what will I do?

So check it out if you have the time… or if you are working on a boring project and need a distraction… or if you are making dinner, or whatever your reasons might be.

8 responses to “Education Abroad

  1. As an international student, I was studying abroad when I came to the United States. To be honest, when I first started school, I had no understanding of liberal arts. I actually wanted to transfer to an engineering university as soon as I got a chance. But it was around 2002 and the economy was not doing too well then so most of the engineering programs could not give financial aid which was necessary.

    Like most things in life, this was something that seemed like a tragedy at that point but turned out to be a blessing because I really fell in love with liberal arts tradition once I transferred to a school where they took the “liberal” part to heart.

    Given that I was doing a Computer Science & Math double major and I had transferred, I did not have enough time to go abroad. I always told myself that I was already studying abroad and since lots of international students come to US institutions, it was a great environment to get a complete picture. For the most part, I was right.

    However, I realized what I was missing out when I went to Tokyo for a month long research project. The entire time I was there, I was jealous of all the people from my school who were able to spend a semester, some an entire year, in Japan. As much exposure as one gets to international culture in American universities, it does not compare to actually being in a different country and come face to face with cultural & language difficulties. Having to figure out how to ride the train by myself on the 3rd day taught me more Japanese than an entire semeseter I spent trying to learn phrases from my friend.

    So I encourage everyone to put themselves in that situation because it teaches you a lot of things you can never learn from a classroom environment. I can say so because I experienced it first hand TWICE, once when I came to the US in 2002 and again when I was in Japan trying to make sense of the Tokyo train map.

  2. Pingback: Life as an International Student « tundal45@wordpress:~$

  3. My parents were the opposite of yours. They love to travel, wanted me to go everywhere, and would have been so excited for me to travel abroad, but I refused. I remember clearly one trip during my snr. year of high school when they wanted to take me to Spain and I flat out refused, and instead stayed home during that break eating Taco Bell and watching MTV while they went, because that’s all I really wanted out of life (it is most of what I like about life right now, too). I enjoy travelling now, but it’s taken awhile. I bet your parents were just like me, “but the fast food in Europe is terrible! And don’t even get me started on Africa!” They were totally just looking out for you.

    • I can appreciate that, but it still totally sucked at the time.

      They still think I’m weird in a lot of ways, but now they have less control over my crazy travel destinations and interests. They have also probably learned a lot along the way as well (willing or unwilling). I’m sure my mother probably wouldn’t be able to name an African country had I not traveled to several, and even though she is still (embarrassingly) excited to see non-existent belly dancers at Indian restaurants, at least she is willing to try the food ;)

      • Agreed; it would have sucked. Parents are good at not sympathizing or understanding (myself included). Your mom reminds me of a story of an elementary school pageant where the kids were holding up flags from different countries, and when the Zambian flag came up, the kid said, “Africa!” and when the Israeli flag came up, the kid said, “Jewish!”

  4. You look so sweet in your picture!!! Sounds like you had a lot of opportunities go go and see the world! So lucky!

  5. My parents wouldn’t pay for any studying abroad for me either (or for college at all, but that’s another story…), so I simply told them that I was graduating from high school early and going to work in Germany… which is what I did.

    For young people who have experience babysitting, like children, and want to travel aborad, I highly, highly recommend working as an au-pair. It gives you a very different experience than studying abroad will, since you living in and working for a foreign family.

  6. happinessandsimplicity

    I’m glad you finally got the chance to go out and do the traveling and learning that your parents restricted you from doing in HS. I always enjoyed getting those emails from France that you sent out (or was it a website you had? I forget) and I tried to keep an eye on where you were and what you were doing throughout the years.

    I’ve always been so envious of your traveling experience, of all the amazing places you’ve been and things you’ve done. I’ve never had the courage, and so seeing the pictures of you and reading about your experiences has always been bitter sweet. I definitely feel some sadness and regret that I have never taken the initiative and done some of these things for myself.

    I really love reading stories about Africa, specifically Botswana, and I long to see these places for myself. At this point it seems so unlikely that I will get there anytime soon. I wouldn’t even know how to go about looking for a program or trying to plan an extended trip.

    You’re definitely my role model for cultural experience and worldly wisdom. :)

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