Written by: Deven Kosciusko, @Deven_Kosciusko
Students who study or work abroad are likely to return home with the ability to think more complexly and creatively, according to a recent study by Pew Research.
Amber Perez, a senior studying exercise physiology, said her week-long visit to Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, an orphanage in Peru, compelled her to put this theory to the test.
“It became extremely clear to me that the orphanage struggled to feed over 100 kids,” Perez said. “That need struck a chord in me, so I asked the director how I could help them to have more food for their kids.”
Perez said the orphanage director shared his idea to start a farm, but the idea lacked the funding it needed.
“The idea was the perfect, self-sustaining solution in every way, but it would take $3,000,” Perez said. “When I left, I promised them I would do everything I could to help.”
A study led by William Maddux, an associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, a graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, said students who gained multicultural engagement from getting involved abroad became more integratively complex in their thinking.
Lindsey Hendrickson, a senior studying math education, spent a winter semester at the BYU Jerusalem Center in 2014.
“I think I value experiential learning now,” Hendrickson said. “My idea of teaching before was, ‘This is how you do it,’ but now, I want to do more hands-on things and experienced-based learning rather than, ‘This is the number you plug in.’ You can learn from people what you can’t learn from a text book.”
Hendrickson said she felt like she was missing out until she stopped focusing on the grades and started focusing on experience.
“I think I missed out on some opportunities right at the end, then I realized that was wasting my experience,” Hendrickson said. “I had to reach outside myself and my individualistic style of learning. I think a lot of times in America we say, ‘Memorize this,’ but that’s not learning.”
People who have international experiences are more likely to create new businesses and be promoted, according to Maddux’s study.
Perez said her experience abroad is where “Pennies for Peru,” a giant community yard sale with proceeds going straight to Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, was born.
“For the next month after that, myself and several friends of mine worked tirelessly to make this yard sale a success,” Perez said. “We received incredible support throughout the community. Wal-Mart even agreed to let us use their grassy lot for the event.”
Perez said she counted her money with shaking fingers and hopes for at least more than $600. The total was $3,103.
“I don’t think I could have screamed louder,” Perez said. “Everyone else was cheering, too. I can honestly tell you that I know what it feels like to be on cloud nine. It was a beautiful, satisfying, humbling moment in my life.”
While students who study or work abroad return home with new insight and experiences, they also are more likely to solve problems, make connections within different ideas, and possibly gain more job offers, according to Time Magazine.
“There were challenges, but we found solutions easily to every obstacle,” Perez said. “It was like doing a puzzle; you had to find the right piece, and when you found it, it just worked.”
Hendrickson said her experience in Israel completely changed her way of thinking about the world.
“This is kind of embarrassing, but before my study abroad I didn’t understand anything about the Middle East culture wise,” Hendrickson said. “Seeing other ways of living opened my eyes to think outside of the box, to live in a different way, and appreciate differences in other people and learn from that. Just because I do things one way doesn’t mean that’s how other people do it.”
Hendrickson said every college student should leave room in their education to study abroad.
“I just wish everyone would do a study abroad,” Hendrickson said. “I was scared of money and postponing my graduation, but this completely enhances your learning experience so much. It’s priceless.”