International Educator - November/December 2011 - 52

FORuM

By Michael Woolf

T

“Study Abroad Changed My Life” and Other Problems

HOSE OF US INVOLVED IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION are aware that this is a curious profession in so far as we are both educators and administrators. In recent years, we have made significant improvements in our administrative acumen. That said, we are also educators and, in that context, we have remained too static. We have not, metaphorically, significantly revised our curriculum. We are burdened by myths and conceptions that exist unchallenged in the ether. They are part of the uncontested climate of education abroad.
By way of illustration, a number of problematic implications are revealed in the assertion that “study abroad changed my life.” The statement is problematic not for what it says about an individual who may articulate those sentiments but for what it implies for the field of education abroad and for what burdens it imposes upon our students. The purpose of this discussion is to deconstruct the statement and to consider what those problems might be. not just to travel in space across national boundaries but also across the hardest boundary of all: that which isolates us from a sense of empathy with the other.

Where Is abroad? at the root of this Another problem is that the individual in the stateissue is the massive ment is the passive recipient of the envisaged qualitative difference life-changing process. Thus, it creates a mythical between saying transformative space called “abroad.” The statement “study abroad that “study abroad changed my life” masks a potentially complex set of issues in this context. Firstly, changed my life” and The Primacy of Self The statement prioritizes the first-person perspective: it is entirely undiscriminating in implication as if “i changed my life by the self is the consumer and abroad is the commodity “abroad” were one transforming location wherein the studying X in Y” to be consumed. The commodification and commer- participant will gain insight simply by being there. It in the active voice. in cialization of education across the globe may well be consequently minimizes (or fails to distinguish bethe first statement, inevitable and irresistible. That said, we can seek to tween) some crucial matters such as these questions: the speaker implies a mitigate the worst manifestations. Students going n■ What do you study? abroad for education have not bought a product guar- n■ Where do you study it? level of passivity. anteed to meet their needs, nor have they bought an n■ How do you study it?
experience that will inevitably change their lives. Studying abroad is not a ride in Disneyland where, in return for buying an admission ticket, participants are guaranteed a thrill. Instead, participants have gained access to an opportunity to grow beyond their own narrow perceptions and that requires a profound effort to move away from a purely “first-person” perspective. This is not a bought commodity but a learned experience: an elusive goal and a process—not a location. The purpose of education abroad is, in short, to learn to be more cosmopolitan or internationally aware and, thus, to be a better citizen. The important educational challenge is to empower students to move beyond a purely first-person perspective. The aim is
InternatIonal educator N O V + D E C .1 1

At the root of this issue is the massive qualitative difference between saying “study abroad changed my life” and “I changed my life by studying X in Y” in the active voice. In the first statement, the speaker implies a level of passivity. The transformative process results from an experience of another location. On a literal level, this is misleading in that mere proximity will not ensure change of any kind given that wherever one goes one never escapes the baggage of the self. It also obscures the fact that to gain anything from any form of study the participant needs to be an active researcher, not a vessel into which experience is poured. In natural sciences mixing A with B in a test tube will almost certainly create a C. That is not the

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of International Educator - November/December 2011

International Educator - November/December 2011
Contents
From the Editors
In Brief
Cultivating Branch Campuses
India Opens Its Doors— Cautiously
A Quest to Enhance Quality Spurs Global Learning
Foreign Student Affairs
A View From Out Here
Forum
In Focus
Health and Insurance Supplement
Supplement: Danger Ahead!
Supplement: Their Baggage Goes, Too
Supplement: Directory of Insurance Providers, Services, and Products
International Educator - November/December 2011 - International Educator - November/December 2011
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Cover2
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Contents
International Educator - November/December 2011 - From the Editors
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 3
International Educator - November/December 2011 - In Brief
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 5
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 6
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 7
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 8
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 9
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 10
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 11
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 12
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 13
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 14
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 15
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 16
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 17
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Cultivating Branch Campuses
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 19
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 20
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 21
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 22
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 23
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 24
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 25
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 26
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 27
International Educator - November/December 2011 - India Opens Its Doors— Cautiously
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 29
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 30
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 31
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 32
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 33
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 34
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 35
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 36
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 37
International Educator - November/December 2011 - A Quest to Enhance Quality Spurs Global Learning
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 39
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 40
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 41
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 42
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 43
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 44
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 45
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Foreign Student Affairs
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 47
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 48
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 49
International Educator - November/December 2011 - A View From Out Here
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 51
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Forum
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 53
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 54
International Educator - November/December 2011 - 55
International Educator - November/December 2011 - In Focus
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Cover3
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Cover4
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Health and Insurance Supplement
International Educator - November/December 2011 - SCover2
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Supplement: Danger Ahead!
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S2
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S3
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S4
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S5
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S6
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S7
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S8
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S9
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S10
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Supplement: Their Baggage Goes, Too
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S12
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S13
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S14
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S15
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S16
International Educator - November/December 2011 - Supplement: Directory of Insurance Providers, Services, and Products
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S18
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S19
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S20
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S21
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S22
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S23
International Educator - November/December 2011 - S24
International Educator - November/December 2011 - SCover3
International Educator - November/December 2011 - SCover4
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