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Why Today’s Young Grads Want to Work Abroad – And Why It Matters

2017-06-06
by Daniel R. Porterfield

If “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” as Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad,then surely it helps America for the young to study and work abroad in an increasingly globalized world.

That’s why I’m so pleased to see a surge of interest among Franklin & Marshall College students in the prestigious Fulbright Teaching Assistantship program, which sends recent graduates to teach English in some 50 countries.

This year, for example, we are sending a record nine recent graduates to teach English in countries including Morocco, Taiwan, Poland, Germany and Indonesia. These young Americans come from all walks of life. Some are immigrants and some are U.S. born. They come from big cities like Miami, FL, and small towns like Alexandria, PA. They come from many points on the household income spectrum. Some majored in science and some in humanities or social science.

But what, if anything, do these globally-minded young Americans share?

To answer that question, I spoke with many of them and found three bold themes.

First, they envision themselves embracing both the rewards and challenges of cultural exchange.

For example, Morgan Kincade ’16, a religious studies major who will teach in Morocco, says: “Whenever I travel, my family and friends always ask, ‘How is the food?’ There is a good reason for this common query. In addition to offering exciting new flavors, breaking bread together provides the opportunity for a diverse range of people to gather together in a common space. I will invite community members to eat American meals with me, particularly when various holiday seasons approach. In return, I will ask them to cook dishes, so they can share some of their favorite parts of their home and traditions.”

Michelle Bailey ’17, a sociology and English major who will teach in Taiwan, sees education as a tool for cross-cultural bridge-building: “Language and cultural barriers are difficult to overcome. And these sorts of divides are too often used as an excuse to stagnate in our emotional and intellectual growth. But education and cross-cultural dialogue are the tools to overcoming these obstacles, and increasing our understanding, awareness, and tolerance.”

This is the very spirit of learning Senator J. William Fulbright celebrated in 1945 when he proposed the bill that led to the Fulbright program — calling for the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.”

Second, they believe that living abroad is the best way to develop an understanding of the perspectives and world views of others.

Sara Albrecht-Soto ’17, a psychology and Spanish double major notes: “Interacting with other cultures is what precedes understanding and appreciation — and it is precisely this that I hope to accomplish by way of teaching English in Spain.”

Phoebe Walsh ’16, an environmental studies major, first learned this lesson through studying abroad in Tanzania. Even though she had diligently interviewed people and read up on the country before leaving, there was nothing like living there. In applying to teach for a year in Malaysia, she claims, “The more connected we are without leaving our desks, the more important it becomes to get out there, shake hands, and truly understand a place.”

Third, they value teaching abroad as a way to shape themselves for lifetimes of service, purpose and meaning.

Briana Krewson ’17, a neuroscience major, believes that teaching next year in Poland will make her a better doctor in the future. She reflects, “A good physician must be a good teacher because she/he has to educate every patient about healthy lifestyles and complex biological functions in understandable ways. In Poland, I will have to adapt my teaching style to serve people with very different experiences than my own; in the same way, in the future, I will have to adapt my communication with patients on things they may not know.”

Sheldon Ruby ’17, a government major who once spent a summer in Indonesia, sees returning there as outstanding preparation for a diplomatic career in the foreign service: “A Fulbright year in Indonesia is my next step in a lifetime of dedication to assisting a country that provided me with the foundation of common respect for all cultures, the driving force behind my dedication to international relations and international human rights.”

Twain called his travel book Innocents Abroad in recognition of the naïveté of privileged Americans unable to see the biases in their own perspectives. Of course, as we all do, Twain held his own prejudices, and so his book is complicit in the problems it critiques. Maybe that’s a predicament shared by most Americans of every era.

After all, history is full of examples of when our failure to understand the thinking of other nations and people has badly damaged American interests. Today the consequences of such failures are greater than ever.  

Why? Because, from the global economy to global warming, from pandemics to terrorism, we live in a profoundly interdependent world. It’s impossible to opt out and retreat to our own isolated space. That’s not realistic, stable, or safe.

For the future of our country and our children, America needs to engage seriously with the nations and cultures of the world as partners and with respect. It matters that we understand the identities, aspirations, histories, and hardships of our friends and our foes.

Who’s willing to venture beyond our borders in a spirit of citizenship and discovery? Who’s willing to be the friendly, generous, open-minded face of America? Who’s willing to bring back to our country knowledge and experience that will make America stronger and wiser?

Fortunately, there are many. They are young, talented, and anything but innocent — and we should invest in their drive and development.

http://www.goinglobal.com/articles/1849/

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