The world is more connected than ever before. With the touch of a button, you can text, facetime or call someone anywhere in the world. Buy a plane ticket and you can be anywhere in the world in less than a day. As technology improves, even cultural barriers such as language are becoming trivial. With all of these developments comes a globalized economy that influences politics, entertainment, jobs and basically every aspect of our lives.
Every year future politicians, entertainers, entrepreneurs and countless other innovators graduate from colleges across the United States. But only 10.9% of these leaders will study abroad in their undergraduate careers. This means that almost 90% of college graduates will become a part of the largest economy in the world lacking international experience, language capabilities and cross-cultural communication skills that are required in a globalized economy.
According to Global Education Oregon, it appears that the University of Oregon has done a good job of getting students to study abroad with 1 in every 4 graduating students having gone abroad. That being said, I believe that every student that graduates from UO should be required to have spent at least 10 weeks abroad. While the International Studies major at UO already requires a minimum of 10 weeks abroad to fulfill major requirements, this requirement should be expanded to every undergraduate as well.
University of Oregon alumni include Fortune 500 CEOs, university presidents, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalists. Each year, Duck alumni have a growing impact on life in the United States and across the globe. With an influence like this, it is crucial that there is an understanding of the different cultures around the globe. How can journalists accurately cover issues in a globalized world having never spent significant time in a different country? How can politicians make decisions that the United States and other cultures without understanding the similarities and differences between each culture? How can CEOs make judgments that influence other countries without cultural empathy?
While I was abroad this spring, I spent two weeks living and working at a farm in Chile. The house that I lived in was occupied by three other Chilean workers whose homes and families were more than ten hours away. These workers would work 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for six weeks straight— all for around $10 a day. They would then be given a week off to go visit their families before returning for another six weeks. While you can read about Chile’s $400 a month minimum wage in class, experiencing workers get up before 6 a.m and working until 8 p.m for around $10 is a completely different type of understanding.
Many of the current problems we face in the world are a product of cultural misunderstanding. It’s much easier to deny immigrants seeking asylum when the only knowledge you have of their stories is from reading an article or textbook. With empathy for the different cultures around the world and the problems they face, politicians, executives, journalists, and everyone else may find they have very different perspectives on these issues than before. These perspectives may lead to fewer walls, stereotypes, exploitation and conflicts.
Study abroad programs across the country, and at UO, are far from perfect. 40% of the students that go abroad study in just five countries; the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Germany. This lack of diversity in countries leads to a limited worldview. In addition, many critics argue that the way that programs engage with local programs isn’t ethical. But while all of these things could improvement, studying abroad is still necessary for accurately educating students. Universities can not prepare students for the real world if they only have one of the 195 different countries’ perspectives.