Last night my husband and I had a different date night. He received an invitation a while ago to attend a dinner in Amsterdam hosted by his undergrad university alumni club. The purpose of the event was to discuss the University of Virginia’s role as a university with a more global presence and attraction for students abroad. As an alum living overseas- my husband was invited and I tagged along. Hey, it was a free dinner, a chance to dress up- and woah! adult conversation. Count me in.
It was a very small party: there was my husband who graduated in the 90s, our hostess who was a graduate in 2012, two gentlemen than graduated many, many years before that- and our invited speaker. He was formerly faculty with UVA in the political science department but was now in this new position going abroad and reaching out to different places around the world with the hopes of learning how to attract top students for Virginia.
On many levels, I thought the evening was enlightening. Of course at first I was a little rusty with my conversational ability- hey, I’m used to speaking to people who have a combined age of 10 all day- and couldn’t really express myself very well. But once I got going (and maybe the two glasses of wine helped) I really enjoyed myself. Talking about studying/living/going abroad is exciting and something that we really hope and want for our children as they grow up and start thinking about attending a higher learning institution- or going abroad to experience life in general.
We discussed the merits of studying abroad as a college student. One of my biggest regrets by attending Michigan State as an undergrad in the 90s was that I didn’t take advantage of the huge study abroad program. What an experience to have: engaged in learning n a new environment, new culture, new everything. We also discussed the possibility that some study abroad students might also not truly get that ‘abroad’ feeling due to sticking too close to what is familiar- and I have heard this same experience can also relate to expats. If you only socialize, shop or mingle with other expats- what kind of experience are you really getting?
Why do people go abroad to study or live?
One of the guests was originally from the Netherlands. He decided upon Virginia because he wanted the ‘quintessential American university experience’. When you think of UVA, you think of Jefferson. You think of Poe (well, I do anyhow) you think of the beautiful Virgina campus, trees, grounds and all. Students come from abroad to experience this very ‘American’ place. In the minds of some abroad- this is the American college experience.
On the other hand, we asked each other what’s it like looking back on your home country once abroad- or specifically looking ‘back’ at America in general. Our native Netherlands guest said an impression he always had of America was that people there all seem ‘so happy’ and don’t want to leave.’ It’s a big place, there’s so much to do and see. We portrayed contentment with staying where we were.
Interesting considering my one main goal in life was to escape and see the world an ocean away. Were we really all ‘so happy’ at one point that people got the impression that we didn’t want to leave? Is that how it is today?
The world is getting smaller. The time to go abroad is now.
We talked about how it’s necessary for people to see what they can of the world now. When you go from one place to another- you see the same stores, can eat in the same chain restaurants, can do many things similar to how you can ‘back home’. While I do agree with this to an extent- we are clinging on just a little to the differences from back home in the states. But he’s right: you gotta go now. See the world before it all becomes the same. In other words: GET YOUR KIDS OUT IN THE WORLD!
Our speaker pointed out that he was hopeful one day his job would not be necessary. If his position was eliminated it meant that he had done his job well and people were attracted to UVA from all over the world without his having to go around and wave his arms around saying ‘We’re here!’. All in all a good night out with some great opportunity to think globally.
What do you think? Have you ever studied abroad? Would you be receptive to your child telling you that they wanted to do this some day?