International Education Week is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. International education is so much more than studying in a new place or completing a program. It’s an opportunity to learn about a new place, people, and culture that can lead you to expand your world, connecting with others in ways you’ve never thought about before.
The staff here at Global Ties U.S. all have international experiences that changed the way they looked at the world, and in honor of International Education Week we are sharing a few below. We hope they inspire you to reflect on your own experiences, and consider making international education a part of your life.
The Netherlands, Summer 1968: This experience in high school, an 8 week home stay, showed me that I thrive while learning about and living in new cultures. It made me curious and eager to travel. While it may sound corny, it proved to me how wonderful it is to find commonalities while also celebrating differences between me and those I lived and connected with, at both the individual and cultural level.
Jerusalem 1979-1990: I lived and worked as professional illustrator, became Israel’s first courtroom artist for television, illustrated children’s books, and so much more. As an immigrant in a quite foreign culture, although I had many advantages, it made me appreciate the constant challenges immigrants everywhere face—including those my own parents faced when they immigrated to the United States as teenagers.
Mozambique 2005: My time in Mozambique working for the UN World Food Program allowed me to experience development work up close and helped me to better understand and plan around challenges in the field. Living and working in Mozambique was a tremendously humbling experience that still affects me today.
Grand Rapids, MI, USA 2007-2008: As a Fulbright scholar, being part of the Fulbright community has been a great honor. My scholarship not only enriched me academically, it allowed me to make friends for life.
South Korea, 2012: South Korea was my first non-English speaking environment, and it changed my perspective of western civilization. As someone who identified myself as open, accepting, and cultured, South Korea exposed my ignorance and ethnocentrism, but it also eradicated them.
Cameroon, 1994-1996: The country is home to about 250 ethnic groups and is one of the most culturally-interesting countries in Africa, because so many tribes come together here. Here I experience not only my own perceptions, but the complexities of prevailing assumptions that Cameroonians felt about each other.
Argentina, 1998-2000: As a Foreign Service Officer there I experienced the country during a period of vibrancy and a not universally-shared optimism. The Southern Cone remains a fascinating place.
London, United Kingdom: It was my first international exchange experience that laid the foundation for my future academic and career choices. It also sparked my interest in traveling and getting to know diverse countries, peoples and cultures.
Lebanon, 2010-2011: I lived for 15 months in Lebanon for family reasons and regularly attended lectures organized and hosted by the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut. My international experiences have helped me better understand people of diverse cultural backgrounds and become a richer person. I strongly believe that in today’s globalized world, international exchanges enhance our cultural sensitivity and help us develop different communication patterns which make us more effective and successful in navigating various professional and social networks.
New Zealand, 2002: My first international experience was visiting friends who had moved to New Zealand. It made me appreciate that even in places with which you share a common language and history, there are some surprising and enlightening differences that make you appreciate the wide diversity of experiences in this world.
Denmark, 2013: Spending a semester living and studying in another country was a dream come true for me but it was also my first real experience being on my own. The people I met, friends I made, and adventures we went on taught me that it’s good sometimes to push yourself into the unknown.
Switzerland, 2015: The trip was more of a professional experience but it made me realize that limiting myself to one path was a sure way to miss out on great lessons the world and its people offer.
All of my international experiences, across 14 countries, with the shortest being about two-weeks and the longest four years, have been both a pleasure and privilege for me. They have shaped my outlook on life and how I interact with people from other cultures. They have also formed the basis of my passion for creating opportunities for people to travel and to engage with one another across cultural and physical boundaries.
Australia, 1995: It was my first trip abroad – my first plane ride, even – and it was a two and a half week tour of the Australian east coast from Sydney to Brisbane. As a choir group we stayed with host families in half a dozen cities and small towns, performing and exploring the country and its culture. Key takeaway: don’t hold a koala: they’ll pee on you.
Buduburam Refugee Settlement, Ghana, 2006: I volunteered with a small, refugee-run peacebuilding organization that was helping to prepare camp inhabitants to participate in the work of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We would assemble “peace cell” meetings to explore humanitarian law and how people deeply affected by conflict and trauma could find justice. The experience that had the biggest impact on me was facilitating a two-day workshop for camp elders on how they could work together across ethnic lines. On the second day attendance grew from about 35 people to over 50. My local counterpart, a carpenter, father, and self-taught peacebuilder, was observing his birthday and said he felt like a failure by living as a refugee with his daughters. I shared with him how much I admired him and respected his work and his achievements, and how they definitely paled in comparison to my own (and still do). That moment is what will stick with me the most.