How international study enhances student cultural comprehension

“Every student emerges from primary schooling with a vague awareness of other countries and cultures… this isn’t the same thing as comprehending them”

With connectivity and modern advances, the world has only gotten smaller and will continue to do so. Despite this, there are many channels for our biases and perceived differences to persist and be amplified elsewhere.

It’s important to remember that each of us is just one small piece of humanity. This is why international study opportunities can be so powerful for developing well-rounded, culturally aware, humanistic students and citizens. The following is a look at why cultural education is so important and how studying abroad supports it.

What Is Cultural Comprehension?

Cultural comprehension is about cultivating knowledge of, and appreciation for, cultural and international differences. An awareness of culture also helps individuals better understand how accidental circumstances like birth and geography shape our customs, habits and perception of the world around us, without compromising our essential and undeniable sameness.

Cultural comprehension says we are all the same, but also different. The ways we are different make us more complete as a species.

There are multiple pathways to enhancing students’ cultural comprehension. They can learn from international educators wherever they are, thanks to visiting lecturers and online courses. Travel education and international study opportunities also give students valuable firsthand experience.

Why and How International Study Enhances Cultural Comprehension

Every student emerges from primary schooling with a vague awareness of other countries and cultures. However, this isn’t the same thing as comprehending them. To explore other cultures from afar is to defer to other writers’, journalists’ and propagandists’ renderings of them. It’s not the same as interacting with those of another culture, experiencing a culture firsthand and being personally receptive to new ways of living.

Here are six ways international education continues to yield dividends in students’ lives:

1. Helps Students Learn New Languages
International education makes it easier to pick up languages and understand them in context. Learning a language delivers benefits of its own, too.

2. Enhances Cultural Perspectives
Conflicts happen for a variety of reasons, one of which is a lack of context and perspective. The cultural perspective gained while studying abroad helps students appreciate how similar the traditions and histories of each culture are. No two nations or peoples are alike, but everybody is doing the best they can to understand their place in the bigger picture.

3. Imparts Greater Cultural Sensitivity
Today’s countries and economies are melting pots of cultures, religions and personal histories. International study makes it easier for students to respect differences and co-exist peaceably with others. Academic and professional environments are increasingly diverse, making sensitivity, respect and patience essential skills.

4. Exposes Students to New Perspectives
The storied and long-lost Library of Alexandria supposedly accumulated one of the largest collections of human knowledge in the ancient world. Legend has it the Ptolemies confiscated all books and scrolls brought into port by trading vessels, copied them, added them to the library and then returned the originals.

Modern academia can encourage a similar cross-cultural sharing of ideas, techniques, processes, histories and perspectives by encouraging students to study internationally.

5. Makes Job-Seekers More Marketable
Cultural comprehension is vital in a global job market. The digital age requires new levels of attention to detail when it comes to internationalisation and localisation of apps and services. Understanding cultural tone, international visual and language clues in presentations and global perspectives can help companies extend to a foreign audience, which means workplaces are looking for graduates with a broad cultural scope.

6. Helps Students Achieve Greater Success

Research also indicates that students who study internationally set themselves up for career success and improved academic outcomes. Centre College, for example, has observed a correlation between participating in the college’s study abroad program and receiving prestigious international employment offers, as well as honors and grants.

Other research from the University of California suggests that of students who study abroad:

  • 100% show GPA improvements
  • 97% find employment within one year of graduating
  • 90% gain admittance to their first- or second-choice graduate schools
  • 80% say their time abroad helped them become more adaptive to diverse workplaces

A vast majority of those who study internationally even report they feel more mature, self-confident and tolerant of ambiguity.

There are academic, professional, and personal and social benefits to be gained by international education. Hopefully, we’ll see even more schools expand their international education programs. Doing so means helping raise a generation that’s worldlier, more confident and more inclusive than the ones that came before.

About the Author: With an interest in unconventional education and emerging methodologies, Alyssa Abel writes about the best strategies for students and teachers. Follow her on her education blog, Syllabusy.