More and more U.S. universities are not just encouraging students to study abroad, but they are requiring it. Educational institutions are increasingly cognizant of the importance of staying globally connected. In order to prepare students for the future, many universities are ensuring that students are exposed to different languages, cultures and business models.
While in-class lectures and at-home reading assignments are effective learning tools, nothing can quite compare to first-hand exposure. Reading about chinese business practices in a textbook is not the same as a 5-month internship working in one of Beijing’s top financial institutions.
As a result, the number of university students studying and interning abroad continues to grow. And, for some students, study abroad is becoming as common as a first-year math course. Students at Goucher College, for example, are required to study abroad as part of their college requirements.
BUT, what if students weren’t the only ones encouraged to go abroad? What if all Americans were encouraged to go abroad…to visit new places, meet new people and learn about different cultures?
The first step, however, is to ensure Americans have a passport. So, why not make it mandatory?
Sometimes people need just a bit of a nudge to get up in a certain direction. Requiring Americans to obtain a passport would be the first step in getting Americans out their own back door.
International travel doesn’t just provide opportunities for business people, but it expands the viewpoints of all people. Too often Americans are sheltered from the rest of the world. True, the United States is a large country. However, our world knowledge seems very limited.
Just look at the news shows. The primetime networks of ABC, NBC and CBS offer just 30 minutes of world news in the evening. And let’s be honest, nearly half of the broadcast is devoted to regional news.
It’s very likely that a person in Switzerland knows more about American politics than a person living in Fort Collins, Colorado. Foreigners are exposed to and, more importantly, interested in American news.
The same should be true of Americans. We should want to know about world events. After all, our economic livelihood is no longer confined to our own borders. We depend on other countries as much as they depend on us.
Now, more than even, Americans need to step up. We need to show the world that we do care. We need to stop the red and blue politics that continue to divide our country and start to reach out to the world. We need to stop looking at our Facebook profiles and stare into the faces of the children who so badly need our aid in other countries.
Here are a few of my suggestions:
Corporate America: Encourage your employees to get out of their cubicles and go on an international volunteer trip. Your employees don’t just deserve to take a break, but they NEED a break. Helping those less fortunate is sure to ignite a spark in them. It can be as simple as sending them to a different country to help train others. Even teaching others proper keyboarding techniques will be invaluable.
BUT, this is not just for employees. EVERY corporate executive must also volunteer. Corporations need to start looking beyond their own bottom line. Executives need to start this trend – lead by example.
Airlines: Airline prices continue to skyrocket while passengers continue to receive less and less. Part of the reason so many people don’t go abroad is because of the exorbitant cost of the airline ticket. Airlines should be making a huge profit from the extra charges from the expensive seats, excess baggage fees and in-flight food. Passengers will soon literally be paying an arm and a leg for their next flight.
Let’s at least try to make international trips for altruistic purposes more affordable. Instead of changing prices from one day to the next, why not offer volunteers a reasonable rate for certain flights? Airlines will be guaranteed that certain flights are sold-out and they might even get a tax break for doing so.
Perhaps no one can make another person leave their own country. BUT, if every citizen at least has a passport in their hands, it at least eliminates one barrier to making it happen. Americans need to start being a part of this world. We need to see it with our own two eyes to fully appreciate and understand it.
And, perhaps if more of us start truly seeing what lies beyond our borders, perhaps we’ll find a little more love, compassion and appreciation for what lies within our own walls.