A Jesuit Perspective: Why Study Abroad?
October 28, 2010
Teach English to grammar school children in a government school in Bangkok. Serve lunch to 2,000 children—all abandoned by parents too poor to keep them—at a temple upcountry. Trek through the jungle and experience life in hill-tribe villages where there is no electricity or running water.
Those are just a few of the opportunities available to students who participate in Loyola’s study abroad program in Thailand—one of the University’s 35 international study destinations. Loyola University Maryland has one of the most extensive study abroad programs in the country. More than 60 percent of all undergraduate students go abroad to such places as Newcastle, England; Beijing, China; Santiago, Chile; Auckland, New Zealand; Bangkok, Thailand; Accra, Ghana; and Singapore. Altogether Loyola offers 58 different opportunities for students to study in foreign countries—whether for a full year, a semester, or the summer.
An appropriate place to start in answering the question of why students should study abroad is with St. Ignatius himself. He saw the world as a good place and wanted his followers to embrace it. In founding a religious order he wanted its members to be very much in the world, involved in the arts, science, and education. The early members of the Society of Jesus traveled throughout Europe, Asia, the Americas, teaching and ministering to the needs of the people they encountered. These first missionaries immersed themselves in the various cultures they encountered. Their goal was to make a difference and contribute to the well-being of the people among whom they labored. This mission has become one of the goals of Jesuit education.
If one is to accomplish this goal, one needs a knowledge of the world. There are many ways to achieve this, but none more effective than by experiencing different cultures firsthand. It is one thing to read about people from varying backgrounds; it is another thing to actually share their culture. Study abroad demands that one be sensitive to other societies and recognize their validity. For example, if one is to deal with Thai culture, one must accept the fact that Thais are far more laidback than Americans. They are not confrontational, they seem to lack a punctuality gene, have a great respect for their elders, and look upon their teachers as gods (for an American that takes some getting used to). The lifestyle in Buenos Aires is much different from our own. The British are reserved until one gets to know them. The exposure to different cultures (religion, language, food, etc.) prepares one to deal with and appreciate diversity.