Travel and Study Abroad: The New Degree

The college degree is the new high school diploma and yet, more and more of the youth population find themselves unemployed, savagely under employed, or not working in their field of pursuit. “The research of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/18/45-of-students-dont-learn_n_810224.html). So why are we still wasting our time? Mid level companies and service industries are willing to hire these educated youths because they know we’re disciplined, “educated,” and assume we’re competent. We’re drowning in debt looking for any work to pay off our student loans while continuing to live at home, living on a dream of a better life and one day affording our own space without roommates.

Ireland

Some friends and I were discussing the merits of reviving an apprenticeship system, but it got me thinking: what about a new system of education based on travel and study abroad programs? Europeans seem to have some sense of this, why not us? When I was young I spent a large amount of time traveling during the school year and learned so much more being exposed to new cultures and gaining real world experience balancing life in the air and schoolwork than I did when I was just in classes. So why couldn’t that work with higher education? It’s no mystery that the world we live in is becoming more and more globalized and interconnected. An education based on travel alone could be fantastically beneficial to many fields, though, admittedly, not all. Imagine if everything you were learning in classes was actually right in front of you. You learn basic mathematics from calculating your budget and costs of travel and exchange rates, or, if you’re ambitious, look into the economics of the country you’re staying in. You would gain understanding and exposure to various cultures and new insights to ways of doing things to work within different economic/ social/ political frameworks. Your history classes would be visiting museums and actual real-life historical sites. Your Greek life could actually be life in Greece. Your two-year language requirements would be in a foreign country learning by immersion, learning vocabulary you might actually use because when am I ever going to tell someone “the cat is under the table?” Obviously, this model is best suited to the liberal arts, but it can be expanded upon by insisting on more real-life, practical learning in all fields. Take half of the amount of student debt that is accrued in a regular undergraduate degree program, halve that, and think of how long and wonderfully one could live in another country and the exponential amount of real world experience gained from it compared to sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other people listening to some jaded professor (or, more likely TA) drone on. Many college graduates are entering the world with knowledge and information and no idea how to apply it, but if their education was within the scope of that real world they would be much better equipped on how to apply it in numerous real world, global situations and might be better suited for working in higher level occupations.

I am a realist, but sometimes I just want to be an idealist and believe that we can make the world a better place through travel.