The real benefits of getting a global education and learning in a World classroom
A lot has been written about the 21st century – the start of the global age – and the need now more than ever before for Americans to gain international experience. Much of the time this relates directly to studying abroad. While it’s almost all true, in my mind there seems to be a flaw in the way we look at the benefits of growing up in a global society and learning in a global classroom. And here’s why.
How many times have you heard someone complete the sentence “International experience is important…” with, “to get a better job” or “to get into a better school?” Again, while it’s true that spending time abroad can help shape your resume, I think the more important benefit from international experience and learning in a global environment is that it helps shape you as a person.
As one international school in China writes, learning in a global classroom offers students the opportunity to increase their awareness and understanding of other cultures, promotes critical thinking, and helps to develop an appreciation for other points of view. I’d add that international experience and a global education help shape students who are financially independent, good at managing their time, able to think critically about and analyze situations, able to communicate effectively, and who view the world from a much broader perspective.
I say it all the time, whether you’re an elementary school student on a field trip, a teenager attending a Shanghai international high school, or a college student studying abroad in Spain, some of the most important learning is done outside of the “classroom.”
I learned more Chinese while hanging out with friends in Beijing than I did studying a textbook for two years back in the States. I developed a greater appreciation for art and architecture by actually seeing some of the world’s greatest paintings, sculptures, and structures, rather than just looking at pictures.
A brick-and-mortar classroom, white boards, and textbooks all have their place, but they’re only part of what it takes to get a well-rounded education. The problem is that there’s often a huge gap between the classroom and the other part of what it takes to get a well-rounded education – the real world. The real world involves people of all ages and abilities, cultures, languages, and lifestyles. And to experience true academic growth, it’s necessary to take what one studies inside a school classroom and apply this knowledge outside in the “global classroom.”
Part of growing up involves developing certain skills that are necessary to function in society: independence, time management, organization, social skills, self-confidence. While students who have never experienced life outside of the traditional classroom still have the ability to realize these skills, those that have grown up learning in global classroom have a very tangible advantage.
In certain situations, like a semester abroad in college, it’s likely to be the first time a student is on their own, and therefore he or she is forced to develop these skills at an accelerated rate or at a higher level simply out of pure necessity. Without parents to always fall back on, students have to take responsibility for their actions into their own hands, and even though it’s not always easy, almost all succeed.
Having to live and make important decisions in an unfamiliar environment is another advantage, and one of the main reasons that students with international experience are able to mature and develop many life skills to a degree not matched by others. Personal judgment, rational thinking and problem solving take on a whole new dimension when it involves a different language, different culture, and different setting.
When forced to be independent, more often than not people are capable of not only surviving, but also thriving. I know that, personally, I could never have stayed abroad for this long without the help of my family and friends, but I also wouldn’t have been able to do it had I not developed physically, mentally/ socially, and academically on my own.
The world is an enormous place; one of the biggest disservices we can do to ourselves is limiting our perspective on life and the rest of the world by not getting out and experiencing it. There is an intangible value which comes from immersing ones self in a culture – acclimating to a new place, integrating into the community, interacting with local people, and understanding the ways others live.
Personally, visiting with and teaching middle-school children in a migrant school outside of Beijing has helped me appreciate and value the quality of education available back home in America. It has also helped me to recognize my own privileged position and develop a greater sense of empathy, in turn inspiring me to want to give back.
Traveling to different countries in Europe and Asia allowed me to see how other societies live, what their news headlines look like, and how the people there perceive both America and the rest of the world. I’ve been able to develop my own opinions based on things I’ve actually seen, experiences from places I’ve actually visited, and the thoughts of people I’ve actually met.
The greater the perspective you have on life, the more educated your opinions and decisions become. When learning in a global environment, you’re introduced to new perspectives on current affairs and global issues, you come to appreciate the importance of difference, and you develop the ability to make better, more well-informed decisions on your own.
All of this amounts to a greater mutual understanding of the world’s people, and in the end, that will be the key to a stable, productive, and peaceful global society.
If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!
This post was sponsored by Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, which instructs students using a bilingual and bi-cultural teaching model, and offers unique travel immersion trips through their World Classroom and Experiencing China Outside the Classroom programs.