Right now, we are living through historic, unprecedented times. While pandemics are not new to human history, none of us have seen anything like this in our lifetimes. Moreover, never have we experienced a crisis more global, more far reaching, and widespread. While some places have been hit harder by this virus, no corner of our world remains untouched by the many effects of COVID-19. As we all deal with the different ways our lives have been altered over the past few months, it can feel overwhelming to consider how incredibly big this crisis is. But in this chaos lies an important opportunity - to see beyond our own homes, our own communities, and consider the global community which we are bonded to in a new way. This instinct to view community as a priority is one that is strengthened by spending time living in a new culture, and one of the best ways to do that is through study abroad.
Students who have had the opportunity to spend time abroad, have been able to deepen the way they see the world, expanding their view of community beyond their hometown or college campus. In the midst of this pandemic, these students are especially prepared to respond well because their worldview has expanded significantly in their time abroad. The resulting compassion and awareness give these students the chance to be forces for positive change in the midst of the struggle our nations face. Study abroad has uniquely equipped students to handle this crisis in many areas, including relationships, community and worldview.
- Study abroad allows for unique relationships that help students learn and grow. Developing friendships with people whose lives look different than their own grows empathy and understanding. Not to mention, these formative relationships during a study abroad experience spur students on to seek out similar connections in the future. This heightened initiative allows students to be leaders in connecting their communities long after their study abroad experiences conclude. Now, in a time of shared crisis, unifying together despite differences is of the utmost importance, and study abroad alumni have the practice to make it happen.
- Study abroad gives students the opportunity to practice community. Everyone needs community, but it isn't always simple to live this way. Students who have been able to engage in cultures in which the group is considered before the individual provides a fresh perspective regarding how to live with a community mindset. In a time when everyone is being asked to sacrifice, whether it be time, comfort or control, students who have lived in another culture, have more experience to draw from. They can look back on the example of another culture and infuse what they learned into their home culture. While study abroad absolutely strengthens the individual student, it also strengthens each student’s understanding of how they can contribute to a flourishing community in a time of difficulty.
- Study abroad opens students up to thinking about the world as connected, rather than separate. Far away places have become familiar places, and once massive differences have begun to shrink. This propensity to consider the world as whole allows students to dream of solutions that lean on others. A global community connected by what we share is powerful. Big issues require big, unfragmented thinking.
Recognizing that this problem exists in every corner of the globe is one thing, understanding why this is important is another. Why should it matter that far away places are dealing with similar issues? Put simply, when we see the world as a global community, it impacts the way we respond. While we cannot rush onto a plane and go help others right now, the compassion that lays root when we spend time internationally, allows us to respond with an “others” focus, and not simply a “me” focus. We may find ourselves considering more quickly how to serve those around us, even making personal sacrifices to do so.
COVID-19 is a big crisis. It is an important moment in history. Responding first and foremost with the desire to care for those around us is crucial. Living abroad expands our empathy and compassion, and in a time when the world needs those qualities the most, it is even more clear how important travel and study abroad really is. In the midst of this crisis, let us all respond with compassion to our neighbors, thinking first of those around us, and we will come out of this stronger than before.
Blog Post Author
Kendra McIlvain has worked with Living and Learning International for the past three years, serving with the semester program in Ecuador. Having spent some of her childhood growing up in Quito, she was excited to return after graduating from John Brown University. She is passionate about student development and seeing relationships with Jesus flourish through study abroad.