Smart Study Abroad says what I’ve long tried to convince my father of: that study abroad is not just about messing around in a foreign country but is also useful career prep (and not just for international careers but any career). Annie Everett from the University of Washington identifies three key skills she learned abroad that have helped her in her career progression: resourcefulness, exposure to cultural diversity, and redefining her idea of networking.
On a related note, Mauro Guillén at the Chronicle of Higher Ed. argues that languages aren’t just tools to achieve an end (as in, you study Chinese for the sole purpose of learning to speak, read, and research in Chinese) but rather something much more. Language study is, according to Guillén, a “fundamentally humbling process by which students learn that their culture and way of expressing it are relative, not absolute:”
Acquiring another language makes students better problem solvers, unleashing their ability to identify problems, enriching the ways in which they search and process information, and making them aware of issues and perspectives that they would otherwise ignore…
Learners of languages, by exposing themselves to other cultures and institutional arrangements, are more likely to see differences of opinion and conflicts by approaching a problem from perspectives that incorporate the values and norms of others as well as their own. Knowledge of other languages also fosters tolerance and mutual understanding. Language learning is thus much more than becoming operational in an environment different than one’s own. It is a powerful way of appreciating and respecting the diversity of the world.
These are all skills that employers (especially international exmployers) greatly value. Guillén also tackles the argument that an increasingly globalized world has cut out the need for language study. Since “major multinational companies use English at their most important meetings,” why bother with anything but English? Because you severly limit your chances for success and promotion, says Guillén, if you don’t become proficient in the language of the country in which you’re working. “English proficiency may have become a necessary qualification for employment at most multinational organizations, but it is certainly not sufficient to pursue a successful professional career in an international context.”
By undermining the importance of learning other languages, we are losing an opportunity to educate our students to be better citizens of the world, and failing to provide them with the tools and mind-set they need to understand and solve complex problems.
All of these sound like arguments that might have worked pretty well on my dad back in the day.