The effect of study abroad on intercultural competence

The effect of study abroad on intercultural knowledge

By | Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Education, for many people, is considered attaining knowledge about facts, dates, numbers, names, etc… and education (in this manner) is first and foremost on the minds of a majority of the world’s population, and is one of the values that every nation strives to perfect to allow continuous development. We are told that the existence of education brings about progress, and that the lack of it brings ignorance, but one of the things that we do not think about very often is the opportunity for this type of development in an intercultural sense of the word.

What studying abroad has presented me is the opportunity for attainment of intercultural knowledge, which, for me, means facilitating communication between individuals or groups that derive from numerous backgrounds, and opening the door to an array of diverse thinking styles. In my (only) three weeks in Spain, I had been exposed to the lives of people who, since birth, have been brought up in situations very different from my own, and I have had to discuss subjects such as politics, human rights, censorship, and more in a manner that created intellectual and constructive conversation, and for me, learning to successfully have that conversation is of the utmost importance to one’s development.

Some of the things that my professors at the University of Cadiz said in conversation with the class have stayed with me since I left Spain. When one of my classmates could not verbalize his thoughts in English on the subject of empathy, one of my professors stated:

Mi intención es eliminar su lengua materna. Cuando olvides, por un momento, cémo hablar inglés es cuando sabemos que estamos progresando.” (My intention is to eliminate your first language. When you forget for a moment how to speak English is when we know that we are making progress)

Essentially, that moment when you cannot remember your own language notifies you that are thinking within the parameters of new ideas and feelings, rather than in words that you have seen, read, or heard previously. That moment is when you realize that you are learning more than just another language, and it provides you with a way to understand that you are progressing.

My other professor said something very similar at one point:

“Les enseñamos diferentes maneras de ver la vida. Trabajamos para preparar a todos a pensar en una forma independiente”. (We are teaching you different ways in which to view life. We work to prepare you all to think in an independent form)

Our professors at the University of Cadiz are not just teaching us verb forms, social phrases, and facts about history. What our study abroad professors and the diversity of the classroom are teaching us is how to facilitate verbal and cultural education and communication, which leads to the improvement of intercultural understanding. This type of education is not only useful- it is imperative to the continuous development of individuals and groups, as well as the development of understanding and empathy between cultures, and I am proud to have experienced it firsthand in my study abroad experience.  Thank you Centro MundoLengua for presenting me and all of the other students with this opportunity, and I look forward to the day that I return to Spain.

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