Aicha Ly | Opinion Editor
Due to rapid technological advancements that have allowed people to create and share experiences we could have never imagined were possible centuries ago, people are more connected than ever before. With a few taps on a screen, anyone can create friendships with people who live across seas, oceans, and borders in mere seconds. The world is at our fingertips, an abundance of information and entertainment is just waiting to be explored by whoever is curious enough to go on digital adventures. Travel has become a commonplace due to the creation and improvement of transportation methods. Consequently, so has trade–resulting in an increase of complex international relations. The world we live in today is a globalized society that is only increasing in diversity due to all the mentioned factors.
This is great news in the sense that increased globalization and travel means increased exposure to other cultures and lifestyles. This gives us, as a society, the opportunity to continue working on erasing the hate and ignorance that leads to -isms and -phobias which entail horrific acts of hate against groups of people for simply existing–stereotyped in some cases to death. Cultural awareness and an appreciation for diversity are key to being good global citizens and better, more united people. One way to ensure that cultural awareness and an appreciation for diversity become staples for our society is through education.
Studying abroad is an excellent way to do this. My own study abroad experience is one example supporting this. In Spring 2021, I won the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship awarded to students by the United States Department of State towards credit bearing, study abroad experiences. I was aiming to use my scholarship funds to study abroad in Costa Rica through UCONN during winter break to study migration and human rights while living with a local family to maximize my linguistic and cultural immersion. However, due to COVID, the program was canceled. Luckily, I was accepted into a different program hosted by UCONN and EUSA Madrid where I am interning this semester virtually for a new non-profit in Spain called “Azada Verde” that focuses on empowering locals in Mozambique through education and the implementation of sustainable energy and resource use. Already, I have learned so much. For example, though I have a few years of experience with Spanish and enjoy learning about Hispanic cultures most of my experience has been with Mexicans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. Therefore, those are the Hispanic accents and cultures I am most familiar with. Since the people I am working with are from Spain, I am learning more about Spanish pronunciation from Spain in addition to different verb use (such as the conjugation of verbs to the subject “vosotros” which is pretty much only used in Spain) and new phrases representative of Spanish culture and trends. I have started learning about the environmental, socio political and economic issues impacting Mozambique. Just two weeks into my international experience, I feel like a much better informed and culturally aware person. I am excited to learn more.
Studying abroad is very engaging, interdisciplinary and unifying and can be even if virtual due to an international crisis such as a pandemic. However, for many it seems like an inaccessible dream. Therefore, it should be more implemented in schools. This could look like having trips for language programs; Spanish students could have a school exchange with students from a Hispanic country and French students could do the same with students from a Francophone country as well on an annual basis. Or, more attention could be brought to resources such as the Gilman Scholarship which is designed to ensure that finances are not an obstacle to ambitious students who want to further their education through international experiences so students can take advantage of these great opportunities. Increasing study abroad as globalization and diversification increases is key to shaping a better, more aware world.