While abroad, I have stayed in contact with a few of my friend back at home. Coincidentally, one of my two friends I have kept up with is studying abroad this summer in Europe. When messaging in our group chat I jokingly asked my other friend, “When are you going to study abroad?” This joke quickly turned into a small debate we always have. She wonders why I would want to leave Michigan and accumulate debt, when I could simply stay at home in order to work to save up money to pay for college. I think the easiest way to justify my choice is to explain the importance of experiential learning.
As a Sociology major, we hear the words “experiential learning” frequently. This is simply learning through action. A language immersion study abroad program is a perfect example of this. I am learning Spanish by speaking Spanish to my host mom and other native Spanish speakers daily. Another example is traveling on excursions with my Environmental Science class. We got the opportunity to walk through the rainforest and learn about plants and animals as we encountered them. While traditional learning in a classroom setting is effective, experiential learning is memorable. Personally, I love the structure the classroom environment provides, but experiential learning leaves more of an impact. I find that when I am learning in the classroom, I am learning to pass test and feel rushed by the small amount of time we have in class. On the other hand, experiential learning allows me to apply my skills immediately after I learn them. I remember the words I was taught in Spanish because my host mom taught me while telling a funny story or it is necessary to get something I need. In regards to my experience in my science class, the impact of seeing a sloth up close or eating raw coffee beans while standing right next to a coffee plantation will never leave my memory. In class, I remember hearing over and over again how important the environment is to the health of the planet, but there is nothing like seeing this up close. By standing in the rainforest, seeing how each and every living thing naturally works in harmony and is so beautiful, it stays with you forever.
While the educational experience may be exceptionally impactful, another powerful realization has occurred to me while I have traveled through Costa Rica: I have developed a sense of global community. I have found a way to connect with a whole other group of people. This could be simply because I visited their country or because I am able to speak to someone in Spanish. When you think about it, knowing another language opens up a whole other world. By only speaking English, we only are able to communicate with 1.5 billion people out of the 7.5 billion that live on this planet. By only speaking English, you are missing out on 70% of valuable culture. Global community also means you are able to gain a new perspective.
Currently, there is a lot of division in the United States. Immigration is one of the many things that causes for a heated debate. In my Sociology classes, we slowly began to understand what it means to migrate from one country to another, and the struggles that come along with migrating. Costa Rica, like the United States, accepts a lot of immigrants. There are people from various parts of Asia, Nicaragua, and even the United States. Immigration along with healthcare and law enforce are handled differently here. Some of the policies work better than others, but you began to understand that there is not only one way to handle an issue. This broadens problem-solving skills and helps you gain perspective in a way you would not have thought of. This perspective extends to national tragedies as well. There have been occurrences in neighboring countries like the civil unrest in Nicaragua or the volcano erupting in Guatemala happening since I have traveled here. I would have never felt the full impact of these occurrences if they were simply flashed on a TV screen for five seconds in the United States. While we may comment on how sad these events are, we never fully understand what it means to the people, how these event impact them, until we are right in the heart of it. Instead of dismissing these events, you begin to ask what does this mean for the country I am currently living in, rather than thinking only what it means for the United States. You begin to feel a deep connection with the country and people, therefore a new type of empathy develops for the country’s well-being. I do not believe I would have developed this anywhere else besides study abroad.
Studying abroad allows me to experience a different type of learning and foster the growth of a new perspective. I think these skills are invaluable.