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How Would You Respond to Your Children's Interests in Study Abroad?

Return to The Family Corner - December 2010

How Would You Respond to Your Children's Interests in Study Abroad?
By Godlove T. Fonjweng, Ph.D., Director of Global Education, Wilkes University

Many Wilkes students do not know why they should study abroad. If the students can’t explain why study abroad is a vital component of the Wilkes academic career, how then could they make the case for study abroad to you the parents whose financial and moral support is crucial for study abroad? This article aims to make the case for study abroad to you the parents as your children depend on your backing in this very important aspect of theirWilkes education.

WHY SOME OF YOU MAY BE WONDERING WHAT THE BIG DEAL IS WITH STUDY ABROAD

Based on national statistics most of you probably have never studied abroad.When many of you were in college,study abroad was reserved for the privileged few. It was viewed as an expensive and glorified vacation for wealthy elites.That was then,but today the world has changed,and there is a new rationale for study abroad. Study abroad is part of the curriculum in all prominent and forward looking colleges and Universities across the U.S.When you were in college,the world functioned in “Blocs” or “camps.” There was the Western Bloc of nations (led by the U.S.),and there was the Eastern Bloc of nations (led by the now defunct Soviet Union). During the near half century of the ColdWar, the world had many political barriers that prevented nations from free association. Further,intercontinental travel was still in“the dark ages.” However, from the late 1980’s forward many big changes took place; intercontinental travel became much easier with the proliferation of intercontinental jetliners that took only a few hours to travel between continents.

In addition, the Berlin Wall fell, followed by the Soviet Union, and with it came tumbling many of the political barriers that previously impeded intercontinental travel. These two events resulted in a sharp increase in intercontinental travel. U.S.companies found new trading partners in countries that used to be out of reach to them and exploited those partnerships for huge financial gains. To improve international trade and enhance national security, the U.S.government purposefully pursued policies that encouraged Americans to learn more about other countries.

This is demonstrated by the U.S.government’s decision to allow students to apply their Federal Financial Aid toward study abroad. The U.S.government also strengthened existing programs and funded new programs to allow cultural and educational exchanges between countries,including those in the former Eastern Bloc. Researchers soon found opportunities to partner with colleagues overseas who have common research interests.

For all of the above reasons there has been a major increase in cultural exchanges. As people travelled around the world for economic, security and academic reasons,there arose the need for more cultural understanding between the various peoples of the world. That is how the study abroad you knew about (mainly a luxury) was transformed to the present day study abroad (a career necessity and booster).

WHY YOUR CHILDREN SHOULD STUDY ABROAD WHILE IN COLLEGE

In the world of the 21st Century,gaining international experience is a matter of survival. Your children now find themselves in a world where all major and successful corporations have an international component to their business, meaning they will increasingly need employees who can demonstrate an ability to work with people from different cultural backgrounds.

You do not have to look very far to find evidence of this asWilkes University is one of those successful corporations.Wilkes University understands the need to embrace internationalization and that is why part of its mission states: “To educate our students for ...success in a constantly evolving and multicultural world …” In fulfillment of that mission,Wilkes has invested in the Center for Global Education and Diversity including a staff with a significant international background. Our faculty and student body also have a substantial international component, providing an enabling environment for global awareness and to cultivate an expanded global perspective of humanity among the students.

POST GRADUATION EMPLOYMENT

Your children’s current world is different from yours when you were their age and requires that they prepare themselves to seamlessly integrate into the 21st Century work force,one which is getting increasingly multicultural and interdependent. When they apply for a job,their study abroad experiences will become great assets. While interviewer will most likely not ask them if they have studied abroad, as a precondition for hiring them, a study abroad experience would certainly enhance their standing. Some employers will recognize the value of your children’s international education right away,but others will need for your children to play up their study abroad experiences in their CVs, to realize the maximum benefits of the experience as a key component of their employability.

So, what would potential employers want to know about your children? In the past, when a business graduate told a hiring firm that he/she has taken a number of math, statistics, accounting, economics and management courses, that information immediately translated into a series of skill sets for making a hiring decision. Due to the changing world, most employers now go a step further to find out their ability to collaborate with people from other cultures, who would either be working in the same offices with your children or who your children will meet and work with when their companies send them to business meetings in the U.S. and abroad. Thus, your children’s study abroad experiences will help them stand out as candidates for employment.

To those of you whose children have studied abroad and who are graduating soon, you can help them go beyond simply listing their experiences abroad as an accomplishment and be very deliberate in the way they play up their study abroad experiences to potential employers. They must help their potential employers see how those experiences translate into a discrete skill set; once they do that, they will stand out in the crowd. So, how do they help their potential employers see these qualities?

You and your children should always keep in mind that the value of study abroad to potential employers is not simply the abroad experience itself. Rather, it is what they learn from abroad. Employers put a premium on the ability of potential hires to succeed in unfamiliar situations with co-workers from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Thus, it is important for your children’s resumes to clearly indicate what they learned and possibly how it may have changed their lives for the better. Most importantly, they should look at the job description and find areas where their study abroad education enhanced their ability to carry out that responsibility. They must always emphasize the utilitarian value of their study abroad experience. I present this job narrative here because I am sure that you have every incentive to ensure that your children land those great jobs when they are ready.

Finally, when you approach the study abroad topic with your children, also consider inviting yourselves to join them for an extra week or two of vacation abroad at the end of their study abroad experiences. This is an educational opportunity for you as well. Further, it will provide you and your children with a memorable bonding experience together. You as a family will live to talk about that experience for a long time.

CONCLUSION

Given the way the world has changed since you were your children’s age, it is important to view study abroad as an integral part of your children’s academic career and a window into the world of their future professional careers. If your children have not yet talked to you about study abroad, I urge you to raise the topic with them and encourage them to meet with me to discuss the various options that are available to them. Most importantly,support them to have a study abroad experience. I am at your disposal to answer such other questions as you may have concerning your children’s study abroad experiences.

Return to The Family Corner - December 2010


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