Building Understanding – Studying Abroad

Our world is simultaneously growing and shrinking. We must change our views of ourselves and our increasingly intertwined neighbors, near and far.

Change powers Our University. Quality is judged by the change that occurs in students during their time at Southern. We are doing a good job when we assist a student from Cisne in becoming a physician or one from McLeansboro in becoming a teacher, or my friend from Bluford in becoming an attorney and professor.

One way to change people is to provide them a chance to experience new things. Studying abroad, visiting a culture and people unfamiliar, is not a vacation. Travel has been Disneyfied, suggesting it is all about childish giddiness and pleasure, until you get the tab. Prior to mid-twentieth century travel was about education and empowerment, not entertainment. But, this does not mean there can be no joy or passion in travel.

The word “travel” has roots in Old French – travail – to labor or toil, suffering or painful effort, and trouble. Study in a foreign land represents the work of change when correctly executed. Going abroad may sound like a vacation, at high cost to families, low value to students, and little or no intellectual benefit. Spring break at Fort Lauderdale – Yes. Study abroad through Southern – No.

Horace Greeley and others advised “Go west young man.” The exhortation continues to have consequence. Our national interest in affairs west, in China, Taiwan or Japan, or south, in Mexico or Central and South America adds dimension, character and value for every student, at once making the world smaller and larger.

The continuing benefit of European experiences and the fundamental importance of Middle Eastern and African travel cannot be overstated. Our students can help build international understanding and appreciation through study abroad experiences. I know they are expensive, and our students are strapped. Neither diminishes the importance of finding ways to make global experiences available to our students.

The late Paul Simon, a great visionary leader and distinguished public mind, appreciated the importance of this in his Lincoln Scholar proposal that became The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2007 (H.R. 1469 and S. 991) a measure of extended bipartisan interest supported by no fewer than 35 higher education associations.

This powerful public/private partnership has important goals: increasing participation in quality study abroad programs; encouraging diversity in student participation in study abroad; diversifying locations of study abroad, particularly in developing countries; and making study abroad a cornerstone of today’s higher education.

I would like to think that the Senator’s presence on our campus had some impact on his interest and keen insight regarding the importance of global study to create better understanding across national boundaries.

We cannot fear the known in the same way we fear the unknown. It’s impossible.
Our University has a great tradition of providing students a chance to experience the world and have that seasoning impact their lives. Senator Simon, posted at Southern for the last years of his life, knew and appreciated the importance of understanding others. We should all do what we can to make study abroad available to a continually increasing number of our students.

It opens eyes, creates understanding, and builds a better America – in short – it accomplishes the work of Our University.

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