Developing cultural awareness through study abroad programs

From the top of the Eiffel Tower, a beautiful view of the park nearby can be seen. Study abroad programs are one of the ways students can experience traveling while also gaining college credits. (Kamree Laursen)

Whether BYU history student Alli Argyle was traveling to a different European city every weekend or dressing up as a Jane Austen character, she was living the London life. Argyle was able to experience the diverse culture of London firsthand, something she wouldn’t normally be able to do without studying abroad. 

According to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, study abroad programs have increased in popularity over the last 15 years and many students are participating in them worldwide. With so many countries to explore, study abroad programs have become one of the best opportunities for students to experience cultures firsthand.

Students are able to take classes and receive college credit all while living in a country they are unfamiliar with. Most study abroad programs offer classes specific to the student’s major, but they also have programs that are for their general education, as stated by USA Study Abroad

The NAFSA: Association of International Educators believes that the purpose of study abroad programs is to allow students to enhance their learning and develop understanding in a community.

Argyle decided to spend her winter 2022 semester studying at the BYU London Centre. She said her three other sisters had studied at the London Centre too, which inspired Argyle to want to go.

In London Argyle said she feels like she is a part of the history that was made there. She said she enjoys the fact that there is so much history at her fingertips.

“I’m kind of a history nerd and so being able to go to the sites of historical places made it feel like I was actually there,” Argyle said.

Alli Argyle standing in front of Westminster Abbey, one of the many sites she was able to see during her program. BYU students are able to learn about the culture and history of the countries they are visiting. (Alli Argyle)

Studying abroad has not only allowed Argyle to feel culturally immersed, but she said it has also helped her be educationally enlightened as well.

She said her classroom and learning experience has been very hands-on and experiential. Argyle said she has been able to understand topics easier because she can visualize them instead of just hearing them in a standard classroom. 

Argyle feels that her study abroad program has allowed her to break out of her shell by meeting new people and seeing new places. 

“I learned just how much of a bubble I was in,” Argyle said. “I think that in Utah I have a safety blanket of having similar backgrounds to everyone around me, but London is such a global city that has people from all over the world.”

While Argyle was able to experience English culture, Jessica Burch-Konda spent her month abroad in Valladolid, Spain.

Burch-Konda, a Cal Poly University student majoring in business, studied Spanish while on her study abroad in Spain.

Through her experience of living in Spain, Burch-Konda said she has been able to immerse herself in the culture there by eating the food and exploring different historical places around the city.

“I lived with a Spanish host family and had the opportunity to eat each meal with them and see what it was like to authentically live here for a month,” Burch-Konda said.

One thing she said she discovered during her study abroad was to not get overwhelmed by the little things. Burch-Konda realized many people in Spain are not as stressed about their life and that they live a very relaxed lifestyle. 

Jessica Burch-Konda, a Cal Poly University student, enjoyed walking the streets of Spain every day during her study abroad. She was able to experience authentic Spanish food from her host family. (Jessica Burch-Konda)

Students have the opportunity to live like the locals when studying abroad. According to a journal study by Jessie Wilson, students are able to increase their cultural awareness, which is the ability to react and act in situations where they are encountering another culture.

Burch-Konda said from her own study abroad experience, students can better adapt to different types of people and cultures whether they are in another country or just in their hometown. 

“At its best, education abroad fosters a global perspective, cultural understanding, deep learning, lifelong friendships, and opens many doors,” said Cory Leonard, BYU Kennedy Center associate director of special programs.

Leonard has been facilitating study abroad programs through BYU for 12 years and has taken students to places such as Italy, France, Spain and China. 

Throughout Leonard’s experience of directing study abroad programs, he said, “When students can make connections between theories, ideas, and scholars with people, places and the practice of international affairs, learning comes alive.”

Categories: Europe Travel

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