I want to begin this article bluntly. Sending your teenager across the world, by herself, to live for half a year or more is terrifying. The world is a scary place, especially foreign countries. Your child may not speak the language, understand the customs, or personally know anyone. The emergency number isn’t 911 and contacting your son or daughter as quickly could take days at best. With that said, the question you should ask your teenager isn’t whether he or she should study abroad, but which country is best.
I was lucky enough to have a personal experience with studying in a foreign country. I studied abroad in 2009 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), during the second semester of my junior year. It was an exchange program through my alma mater, Miami University (OH). It was one of the best educational experiences I ever had.
I have many stories and memories from my time in Hong Kong, but I also brought home something much more valuable. I gained skills, abilities, and experiences that many of my peers who didn’t study abroad simply don’t have. These talents have had a profound impact on my career, and if you have children in their late teens, you should to be talking to them about studying abroad.
Next Page: Why studying abroad gives you great learning experiences.
If your child goes to a country where people don’t speak English, he or she will have to learn a different way of communicating. Studying abroad in China, I found myself in situations where I couldn’t speak English to anyone. I was forced to learn non-verbal communication and context clues along with a bit of Mandarin and Cantonese. If your child studies abroad, he or she will become a more effective communicator.
Furthermore, in the process of studying abroad, you need to learn how to get along with all kinds of different people. To get by in a foreign country, you must interact and talk to people who don’t understand you and who may think you are strange. When you are in a foreign country, you are the strange minority outsider. You quickly learn communication and empathy, by necessity.
Even in an English-speaking country, the local customs and traditions are different. What we would consider a common way of thinking will be challenged. For example, I was surprised by the local Chinese custom of encouraging messy eating. Leaving your table clean was an insult to the chef as you can not truly enjoy the meal if you eat in an orderly fashion.
While I am not recommending messy eating, something our culture considers a “bad habit,” I am suggesting that your child will be forced to think more critically and deliberately. It is amazing how your son or daughter will be challenged to rethink subconscious or assumed ways of thinking.
I went to Hong Kong because I didn’t know the language, culture, or anything really about the place itself. I learned how to adapt. I learned how to be empathetic and patient, not just with other people, but with other cultures. I learned that just because something is new or different doesn’t mean the people are scary or bad. Although, I wouldn’t recommend the jellyfish. It doesn’t taste bad…it’s just chewy.
Next Page: What would this mean for your son or daughter’s future career?
Looking back over my career thus far, I realize that I practice very little Chinese business or politics. I hope to one day have the opportunity to work on an international project, but right now I am still too early in my career.
Even so, China gave me many skills that I now use in my career, and which will doubtless prove useful to your son or daughter. What employer wouldn’t want a new employee who is able to think differently, challenge the status quo, or shed a different light on problems businesses face every day? In today’s modern world, technology and business practices change quickly. Spending time actually living — not just visiting — in a foreign country is a valuable part of learning how to adapt in the modern world.
If your child studies abroad, that experience will boost her confidence, and she will have little fear of change or challenge in the workplace. If your child’s resume lists a term abroad, employers won’t hesitate to move it to the top of the pile.
Your child’s experience living in a foreign country will translate into leadership and communication skills. There will be no hesitation to take on challenging assignments. Sharing creative new ideas will make your son or daughter a valuable asset to an employer. The skills and experiences your son or daughter learned abroad will make him or her stand out in the workplace.
If your child is interested in study abroad experiences, he or she will find a lot of options. Many schools are realizing the importance of studying abroad for their students. Most colleges have study abroad programs, many of which have partner universities in other countries. My wife studied at Oxford University in Great Britain while at law school at The Ohio State University on a partnership program.
Some universities will even let you apply for their study abroad experiences even if you don’t attend their school. American University in Washington, D.C., is a popular choice for that approach. If your son or daughter wants to take a gap year between high school and college, I highly recommend looking into Rotary International Youth Exchanges.
The semester I spent in Hong Kong was one of the most important learning experiences I have ever had. I am better at handling chaotic situations with lots of unknowns, better at solving problems with almost no prior resources or research, more confident when it comes to communication, and less afraid of taking on new challenges. What employer doesn’t want to hear the same about your son or daughter?