How Cultural Exchange and Study Abroad Builds Bridges
Getting Out of the Comfort Zone
The 2016 United States presidential election has come and gone, and amidst all the noise, perhaps one thing has become clear – we all have room for improvement when it comes to understanding and listening to perspectives that differ from our own.
We all generally like to surround ourselves with people who think like we do, who share the same worldviews, and who will reinforce what we think with their approval and agreement. But growth and learning don’t often come through these places of comfort, just as you can’t learn much by just reading the same book over and over.
Uncomfortable as it may be, it is only when we are confronted with differing perspectives that we grow. In encountering new ideas and thoughts, we are forced to think critically about our own views and evaluate why we think the way we do. Maybe at the end of this process we will still disagree, maybe it will add some nuances to our own point of view, or maybe it might open our eyes to change our minds completely about a certain position.
This is the beauty (and challenge) of study abroad and cultural exchange programs. Worlds and cultures collide as the participants and everyone they come in contact learn new and different ways of doing things, of thinking, and of living. Cultural norms that seem automatic and “obvious” are anything but in a new culture and country.
AmeriStudent’s Role in Promoting Cultural Understanding
At AmeriStudent, we consider it a privilege to facilitate these kinds of cultural learning experiences. We believe that the personal and intellectual growth that comes for our students and host families by struggling through their differences, benefits not only them but ultimately the world at large as more and more people learn to empathize, to listen, and to seek to understand perspectives different from their own.
As our students and host families can attest to, this is often not an easy or painless process! But we hope that in living abroad with an average American family, there will be many opportunities for our students to naturally discuss and share unique viewpoints as normal life and current events go by.
In November, for instance, our students had a couple major opportunities to observe and learn about American culture. They saw some of the U.S. political process through the election. Some of them accompanied their host parents to voting sites to see how the average citizen votes in this country. There was also the American Thanksgiving holiday, a completely new experience for many of our students, who learned about American history and traditions from their schools and host families. In return, our host families constantly get to learn about life in another country through the eyes of their student.
At the end of the day, we hope that this process of shared experiences will yield openness and growth, one conversation at a time.