June 14, 2012

Why is Cultural Immersion an Important Part of Studying Abroad?

All study abroad programs and foreign language programs are combined and offered to students as an immersive experience that would help them learn more. The question that arises is why it so important to visit a place to understand its culture. Communication has gone global and it has become easy for everyone to view video footage from around the globe. So what is it that necessitates a travel experience? 

Cultural Immersion: An Unforgettable Impact
Study abroad programs and gap year programs continuously focus on the cultural immersion aspect. No matter where a student goes, whether it is Europe or Asia, emphasis on this aspect is evident and so much so that home stays are arranged to help a student experience the lifestyle of the resident of that country.  What is it that makes this aspect of study overseas and student exchange programs so important?

The answer lies in experience. One cannot describe completely how a certain experience is just by reading or looking at videos. One has to “be there” to experience firsthand something that has been described as different. Books and common knowledge suggest that lifestyle and culture are different in other countries and despite all videos on YouTube and other media, this fact cannot be ascertained, unless of course one spends a few days in the place ‘real time’. 

One aspect that is a deep rooted cause for emphasizing on cultural immersion is usually not considered when explaining the importance of study abroad and student travel programs. This elusive aspect is empathy. A person should have the ability to stand in another person’s shoes and view a situation from a different perspective. This is a quality that becomes imperative when one goes to a different country where the way of living and doing things are different. Today in the era of global interaction, this quality allows frictionless communication and a feeling of bonhomie in international interactions. This is something that can never be taught in a class. One has to leave the familiar environment and travel abroad to study to learn this. This also explains the inclusion of language programs in the study abroad programs.

When the concept is viewed from a different point of view, it is seen that those who are learning a foreign language find living in the country (which that language is native to) particularly useful. The reason is that it is the natural environment for that language and hence it becomes easy for a learner to shed any inhibitions and learn with ease. A sense of adventure is involved because of the newness of the place and a student willingly utilizes all mental faculties to adjust and learn as much as possible. This also boosts a student’s confidence. This idea has been derived from the maxim which says that experience is the best teacher. 

If one looks at it, the idea behind the cultural immersion in study abroad programs can be compared to any field of study. No matter what one learns, there is invariably field work or practical assignments involved to put that knowledge to test. This widens students’ understanding of the subject, taking into account other factoring elements which can be understood only when applying the knowledge practically. After all, the aim of all knowledge lies in its application and evolution. 

Tom Hopkins is an Editor in Chief, working for Minds Abroad your informed counselor for studyabroad & travel programs in China. Learn Mandarin in China and enrich your cross-cultural experience. For more posts and information on places of cultural and historical interest that we take our students to, visit www.mindsabroad.com

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