By Macey McGovern, Foster Undergraduate who is participating in an exchange with the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia.
When you embark on a study abroad program, you not only represent your university but also the entirety of the nation that you call home. Especially as an American, you will receive questionable accusations, insults, and judgments because of how the country printed on your passport impacts the rest of the world. Whether the people back home know or not, the affairs of such a strong world power radiate throughout the rest of the globe, and it is not only our duty to take care of our citizens but to also work for better lives on every single continent.
That being said, I cannot stress enough the importance of education. I’m not just talking about the required math, science, and art classes you need to graduate, but furthering your knowledge of current events, prominent issues, and absorbing the painful statistics on topics that are too easy for people to avoid. Regardless of your reason for attending a university, whether it be to obtain the skills for a career of interest, to pursue the enjoyment of learning, or because it’s what everyone else was planning and you hopped on the bandwagon, take advantage of and embrace any opportunities to become a better citizen. A degree is important in the long run, but even more so is the character of the person who earned it.
I cannot stress enough the importance of experiential learning and actually doing something you seek to learn more about. Here in Australia, my interest in local humanitarian relief led me to become a Sydney University representative for the Australian Red Cross. My interest in climate change led me from the snorkeling group at the Great Barrier Reef to seeing what was really under the surface and completing two introductory dives. Wonder how a city can be built? Try climbing the 440 feet to the top of almost a century-old bridge and learn about the workers who literally fell off the top and gave their life for the cause. I could have easily found some of the same information through a simple Google search, but a mindset doesn’t evolve just from memorizing a new trivia fact. You have to experience.
Regardless of whether you plan to study abroad, have studied abroad, or are past the point
of eligibility, do something new every so often to keep learning. Read the news and talk to people about what is happening, find cracks where you can create opportunities to evoke change, and most importantly, do not drag yourself into a routine that shields you from life outside your bubble. This might seem like repeated advice, but it’s much harder for people to process in a country where you can be successful without leaving your hometown. Even with a stable life, there is much more in the world that you can do.