04 January 2011

What Students Don't Learn Abroad

Ben Feinberg, a faculty member in the social sciences department at Warren Wilson College, published an article entitled "What Students Don't Learn Abroad" in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2002. I just read the text as an assignment for my field study prep class. The essence of the article is that students (and, by extension, Americans) are more interested in themselves than the foreign people and culture while living abroad and that this attitude is a result of the conditioning from American media. Here's the most repulsive example from the article:

When a promotional piece for the reality-TV program The Amazing Race shows an American woman in a clearly foreign space--perhaps India--she is not troubled, confused, or interested in her environment. Instead, she strips down to a bikini emblazoned with a U.S. flag to get directions to the next challenge from a bug-eyed and eager native . . . . That young woman clearly did not travel to broaden her horizons. For her, India becomes, as much as Salt Lake City or Kandahar, a place for aggressive performances of her American identity--unwrapping herself in the flag, so to speak.

Feinberg states the motivation for studying abroad: "in today's interconnected world, it is more important than ever that students be attuned to the nuances of cultural difference." My idea of the value of my field study in India is the inherent value of the Tibetan people themselves, and the resulting relevance of their lives and experiences.

I'd like to think that BYU students are different than the ones interviewed for Feinberg's article. I hope that my peers and I will be genuinely interested in the people and culture around us as we travel around the world. Probably, Feinberg's sample didn't include any of the excellent students found in Provo :)

Photo credit Gurumustuk Singh


  1. Heeey,I remember reading that article, but I didn't realize the author was from Warren Wilson College! I almost applied there, it's a kind of random little school with a lot of character. That's cool. ALSO, I think this is the saddest thing about so many people's international experiences. They go for the sake of going or to see some famous sites, but don't try to really immerse themselves in the culture and the country that they're in. And I think this is where field studies really stand out from Study Abroad programs and so many other international programs, because you're really forced to interact with the culture and the people constantly. Which makes the whole experience so much more authentic and amazing (in my very biased opinion).

  2. You've made good points, Katherine, though I'm sure students in other international programs can have excellent experiences abroad, too. Perhaps the problem with the students interviewed for the article is that they are unable to imagine that another nation could be better than the United States in some respects. Isn't it not only possible but probable that some aspects of India are superior to some aspects of the U.S.? We're all equally children of God and there isn't anything about Americans that makes us better than the rest of the people who live on this earth.