Ian B. Keil, Study Abroad Interest Group Member
While studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria, I quickly learned that professors in Europe had different expectations than professors in the United States. Each course had but one final exam which determined my grade for the entire semester. Syllabi were sketchy documents and important material had to be deciphered from each professor’s lecture. I learned very quickly the value of working with classmates to determine important material and how to study for exams. The Austrian educational system was foreign to me, and it took some adjustments before I felt comfortable in my classes.
In the dorms, I met people from across the globe. My roommate was from Egypt, and one of our first discussions, a conversation in broken German, revolved around Palestinian and Israeli issues. Social interactions took on a whole new meaning when I was forced to translate every word from English to German in my head. I was forced to keep my sentences simple; my Pictionary skills became legendary. The most important lesson I learned while studying abroad was the importance of adaptation. I had to adapt to the new system, because, no matter how hard I tried, the system would never adapt to me. The social and analytical skills I acquired while studying abroad prepared me for many of the academic hurdles I would encounter later on in my academic career.
Adaptability is a simple word that encompasses many of the fundamental elements needed for success in college and life. The world has a way of sending us unexpected experiences; successful navigation of these experiences is dependent upon our ability to adapt and adjust. One key role for academic advisors is helping students adjust to their new college environment. Just like studying abroad, incoming college students are exposed to completely new environments. They are expected to effectively navigate new societal structures, meet different academic expectations, and overcome personal trials. Higher Education in the U.S. has, for the most part, a well oiled machine for guiding students through this transition period, and academic advisors have a multitude of available resources to lead students in the right direction.
Studying abroad requires students to further expand the adaptation skills that helped them thrive as new college students. Studying abroad is a vital experience that adds value to a student’s life. Simply put, it raises the bar. Studying abroad is like comparing an undergraduate education to a graduate education; both have value but graduate school takes education to a higher level. With studying abroad, the adaptation lessons are more difficult and the hurdles are much higher. Study abroad students will likely fail many times before they learn to adapt to a new culture and a new educational system. However, these failures ultimately transform students into well-adjusted, open-minded, and confident individuals.
We live in a world where college graduates can expect to change their careers many times during their life. The consistency of the past no longer exists. The ability to successfully adapt is no longer a useful skill, it is a necessary one. As academic advisors, it is our obligation to teach students the skills they need to succeed in school and in life. Studying abroad is not simply an extra tool in a teaching kit that contains resources such as minor brochures, information sessions, writing workshops, and scholarship forms. Studying abroad is a core course in adaptability; it must become one of our top priorities when advising students.
Ian B. Keil
Undergraduate Advisement and Academic Services
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
University of Southern California
Cite this article using APA style as: Keil, I. (2010, September). Raising the bar: Why is study abroad so fundamentally important?. Academic Advising Today, 33(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]