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The Experience of a Lifetime

Originally published in the 2021 Higher Education Guide, by France-Amérique

Nearly 100 years ago, the first American study abroad program was launched at the University of Delaware, following a globalization trend in the aftermath of World War I. The trend grew steadily over the decades; however, at many schools around the world, COVID-19 has put such programs to a screeching halt. Restrictions and well-founded fears of becoming infected in transit have made planning for a study abroad experience a moving target almost impossible to pin down. But thanks to the development of vaccines and various innovative tech solutions employed in classrooms around the world, the pursuit of studying abroad and double degree programs is once again possible!

Looking back at when I was in college in New York in the late 1990s, my one major regret was not having studied abroad. The prospect excited me but felt far out of reach. Lacking funds and career guidance to show me the incredible value of such an experience, I didn’t realize that such programs often were far more accessible – both financially and logistically – thanks to support from university staff.

Crédit: L'auberge espagnole

Watching the iconic film l’Auberge Espagnol with envy, I knew that a similar experience would have had a profound impact on who I am. I, too, would have made incredible friendships and memories. I was 30 when I finally ventured out of the United States and explored incredible lands around the globe - I lived in Barcelona and Sydney, each for a year, and Paris has been my home for the past 11 years. It's never to late; it's just cheaper and more carefree when you're a student.

Education teaches you to think; travel teaches you to understand.

As an administrator who’s worked at various universities and schools in France and the United States, I’ve seen the profound effect that studying in a foreign country has on students, particularly when they come back to their home country. SciencesPo, one of France’s most prestigious academic institutions, realized this many years ago, and made it mandatory for undergraduate students to spend their third year on an exchange program overseas. Before they even take their first class, all students know that they will eventually be sent off to a foreign land where they don't necessarily know the local culture or speak the language. It's exciting and safe at the same time: Students know that there is a capable, well-connected department on campus that will help them throughout.

Sciences Po Grand Amphitéâtre, Paris, Fance, University Website

I few years ago, I was in charge of international student life at SciencesPo in Paris. At the beginning of each school year, I hired a team of some 30 student leaders to help me organize and run the orientation program for about 1,600 incoming exchange students. Fourth-year students, freshly back from their own study abroad program, their minds and hearts open, always made the best oreintation leaders to welcome the incoming class. The time away from their home and native culture had exposed them to difference and taught them empathy. Immersing yourself in a culture apart from your own, getting to know the surface differences between theirs and yours, but more importantly, the deep similarities in that we are all human, teaches an inescapable empathy. This is what creates better leaders, better humans, and a better world.

Credit: Thanh Soledas, Dribble

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mohammed, the founder of Islam, who famously said, “Don’t tell me how educated you are; tell me how much you’ve traveled.” While travel does not replace education, there is so much you will learn while abroad that you could never learn in a classroom. I often say to my students: Education teaches you to think; travel teaches you to understand.

Author: Eric Lucrezia


About France-Amérique:

Bridging the gap between France and the U.S.A., France-Amérique is the only French print publication available across the United States. This monthly, bilingual French-English magazine appeals to anyone interested in French culture and French-American friendship. The content focuses on cultural and economic affairs, French heritage – fashion, museums, gastronomy – while promoting the French language and the dialogue of ideas between our two countries.

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