As a university with an international outlook, GW has a duty to guarantee students are able to have a distinct and valuable study abroad experience. Although a fellow opinions writer may disagree, studying in Europe is a perfect way to supplement knowledge gained in the classroom and expand a student’s international outlook.
Last academic year, about 70 percent of students who studied abroad chose to study in Europe, with the United Kingdom taking the No. 1 spot as the top destination. With figures like these, questions on the value of European study abroad programs arise. Students have to determine if the cultural similarities between Europe and the United States are too vast and diminish the value of studying abroad in the first place. While it is understandable that some people question the merit of studying in Europe, the continent is diverse and has a fundamentally different cultural outlook from the United States and therefore students who study abroad in Europe are not “taking the easy way out,” but are making the most of their cultural and intellectual pursuits.
While it is understandable that some may assert that students won’t be exposed to the same level of diversity or face the same degree of challenge studying abroad in Western countries, this view fails to recognize the advantages of studying abroad in Europe.
The United Kingdom has undeniable cultural and Westernized kinship with the United States, but that isn’t to say that American students won’t be exposed to new cultural experiences. British universities are distinguished for attracting the best and the brightest students from all over the world, so American students will be sitting in a classroom alongside students from countries all around the world – not just the nation they choose to study in like they may in more homogenous countries like China or Chile.
Although students would be immersed in each nation’s respective culture if they opted for a country in Asia or South America, they won’t necessarily have the same diversity of experiences, conversations and intellectual undertakings, simply because most countries lack the hundreds of thousands of international students that the United Kingdom boasts. If anything, sharing a common language with other undergraduates from a variety of backgrounds actually expands students’ ability to gain valuable experiences and have deep conversations with their peers. In other countries where the primary language is not English, students will find themselves sticking close by their American friends in their programs and this practice limits their opportunity to engage with cultures different from their own, simply because it may be more difficult to engage with the people and the culture.
Aside from the United Kingdom, the crux of Europe’s appeal is that its study abroad programs are like buying one and getting 46 free. The continent is remarkably interconnected, primarily because of proximity, but mostly because of the Schengen Zone – a European Union policy which guarantees the free movement of people across nations without the need for passport checks or border stops. The ease with which students can navigate the peninsula makes staying in just one country a crime, and if they travel to as many different nations as they can during their time, they will further expand their cultural understanding.
Country hopping is as normal as driving from Maryland to Virginia, and it could be formative for the character of students. Travel is an excellent way for students to learn not just about the countries they go to, but also about themselves, because it allows them to reflect on how they handle problems as they pop up while traveling independently without the support they are accustomed to stateside.
More students prefer Europe, and this isn’t inherently wrong because the opportunities Europe provides between its member countries are unsurpassable by any other study abroad experience. Students are fulfilling GW’s goal of exposing them to cultural and intellectual diversity by traveling to Europe, and they shouldn’t be discouraged from visiting the peninsula based on an insinuation that their decision is a walk in the park compared to other study abroad programs.
Students already have a clear preference for Europe and they should continue traveling there when they study abroad because of the wealth of experiences they can have in the countries. The suggestion that a majority of students studying abroad in Europe do not have diverse challenges ignores the opportunity that Europe as a continent has to offer – a multiformity of ethnicities and cultures in a small proximity which can expose students to the true meaning of diversity.
Galen Ekimov, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.