Out of the mere 30% of Americans who actually have passports, half of those who travel abroad never make it beyond North America. For a country with a significant portion of the world’s wealth and vast demographic variety, these statistics are fairly unimpressive. They reveal that citizens of the United States have become so comfortable with their environment that they are afraid to leave. If Americans never experience true foreign travel, it is possible that we will fall behind in making the social connections required of employees entering the international workforce.
Some Americans may argue that going abroad is much more challenging than it is beneficial. Many people face factors like personal expense, while others are wary about cultural obstacles and language barriers. These are all relevant issues that can be intimidating, but confronting these obstacles can encourage personal growth in areas like creativity, compassion and open-mindedness. For example, within the field of applied cognitive psychology, studies have proven that those who go abroad have a higher capacity for creative thinking than peers who have not been abroad. In a world that relies on increasingly globalized methods of commerce, understanding diversity has become a skill that is highly valued by employers. As a result, colleges have begun to include a study abroad experience as a requirement for graduation.
To some college students, study abroad has a stigma. In nearly every case, it requires students to pay extra out-of-pocket expenses, gain proficiency in another language and leave the country for the first time. All of this can be daunting, but if students know the benefits they can gain from studying abroad the stigma disappears. According to Christine Lee, Tracy Linderholm and David Therriault’s article On the Cognitive Benefits of Cultural Experience: Exploring the Relationship between Studying Abroad and Creative Thinking, “The ability to engage in cognitively complex tasks with regard to cultural information is becoming an increasingly valuable skill to acquire in today’s globally connected society”, therefore, talents gained while studying abroad have extensive practical applications. “Cognitive processes such as extending pre-existing concepts, considering diverse possibilities, synthesizing remote associations, and mentally manipulating ideas have been identified as important features of creative thought” that can be developed while studying abroad. The simple act of consciously exposing your brain to new ideas, new cultural concepts and a new language can cause dramatic differences in cognition. Engaging with novel concepts is a kind of brain exercise that strengthens creativity and helps us to make unforeseen mental connections.
If you have the opportunity to go abroad, take it! The experience can provide you with skills you might not ever obtain doing something else. So, extend the boundaries of your comfort zone. With proof that there is much more to gain than there is to lose, the decision is simple. – Hannah Lussier