In my last blog post, I shared 10 items to consider before starting an international exchange program. For those ready to take the plunge – read no further! But if you’re still on the fence as to whether or not allocating time and resources to international exchange experiences is worth the reward, consider the commonly asked question of why do this? First, the long answer…
In our Jesuit schools, we promote the development and growth of the whole person; without a doubt one of the most endearing qualities of a Jesuit education. While we certainly aim to have that growth be part of a student’s daily experience, the pure sense of awe and amazement one feels when embracing another country, culture and people facilitates this growth in ways that simply can’t be found in the classroom. Part of our jobs, and our unique ability through the Jesuit network, is to provide opportunities for students (and faculty) to experience this wonder first hand.
Consider the transformation within a student while participating in an exchange program: they are stretched far beyond their traditional comfort zones, they learn how to self-navigate in places, situations, and circumstances that provide new and engaging challenges, and they experience a sense of global love and compassion that is intrinsic to staying with host families and becoming part of local communities. As we often say in the Hyde Center – students who participate in exchange programs don’t just visit other countries, they live in other countries – and the difference between the two becomes astonishing.
As educators, you can see the transformation happening right before your eyes: the first time a student discovers his/her ability to effectively communicate in a second language; the shy, typically reserved student who thrives in a new environment as they are hit with a new wave of confidence…or even the new sense of humility in the student who needed to understand that they are not quite as ready to take the world by storm as they perhaps thought! Nothing screams Open to Growth (part of the US Graduate at Graduation) like allowing in yourself a vulnerability to grow and eventually thrive in the fertile learning grounds of an environment that is totally new and unfamiliar.
When students visit the Hyde Center from our partner Jesuit schools around the world, we often engage in an early conversation about the cultural stereotypes they expect to encounter during their experience. When they leave, we revisit the same conversation. The before and after – before truly engaging with another culture and after developing their own global perspectives based on shared time with real people and places – illustrates the powerful outcomes of an act as simple as connecting people. From my perspective, it’s one of the most important things we do as educators.
Now, the short answer, and for me the one I like better….why not do this?
Dan Carmody is Executive Director at the Hyde Center for Global Education at Boston College High School and Global Initiatives Assistant for the Secretariat for Secondary and Pre-Secondary Education of the Society of Jesus
Other articles in this series: