Every month, we ask parents why they’re choosing to send their children abroad. Check out SPI Parent Blogger Ilya Burlak’s take on why he decided to send his daughter to France this summer:
In our Internet-enhanced times, it is not that difficult to learn all that you want to know about a faraway place without getting up from your chair. All the facts, all the trivia, and thousands of beautiful photographs of impressive sights are at your fingertips around the clock. You can even conceivably learn a foreign language while remaining in that same chair — there are plenty of computer programs that approximate immersion experiences these days.
And yet, experiencing that faraway location by being there makes for a much richer understanding of the place, its people, their customs, their beliefs, the roots of differences among cultures. In today’s world, being open-minded about such differences and being able to rationally analyze diverging points of view might be one of the key qualities of a successful individual in any field of work. I know of few better ways to enable and encourage open-mindedness in my child than sending her abroad to study.
Along the way, she will master a foreign language in an environment that will demand daily application of the skill, as opposed to sole classroom instruction. She will see the place and the people with her own eyes, not through the prism of someone else’s experiences. She will meet like-minded students and forge friendships with people who have similar interests. Above all, she will hopefully come back with her horizons considerably broadened.
I envy my children quite a bit. They are afforded opportunities that I did not have within my reach when I was a child myself. I grew up behind the Iron Curtain and had limitations of travelling even within the country of my birth, and nearly zero possibility of journeying abroad. It took emigration to the US during my college years and a lot of hard work to build a career and a level of financial security for our family to start enjoying regular international travel.
But we seized the opportunity with gusto. In the last decade, we spent several years living in London where I relocated for work. We travelled to nearly 30 countries. Since our repatriation, our eldest child alone went on 4 different study abroad programs, including one with SPI to Siena, Italy. She speaks four languages fluently and is currently taking a college semester in Brussels, focusing on European culture, economy, and European Union politics. Her younger sister is now of the high-school age and ready to follow in the same footsteps. Even our youngest, at mere 4 years of age, already has multiple border control stamps in her passport.
An average American travels significantly less in their lifetime. I know many people who are well-educated and reasonably well-to-do who take their children to Disney World every year and never go anywhere else. If they go to Paris for a week, it is a special occasion of uncommon proportions to them. They may feel that America is a big country with plenty to see and do on its soil (and I fully agree, although it should be noted that they hardly take advantage of American cultural and environmental diversity), but what they primarily cannot do without is their customary comforts — be it familiar cultural norms, expected level of customer service, recognizable cuisine, etc. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing inherently bad about staying within your comfortable boundaries. Moreover, one can argue that there are plenty places within the USA proper that provide a window into foreign worlds and cultures (every big American city has its own Chinatown, right?) – you can visit them as if visiting a museum, retreating to your favorite food franchise at the end of the visit. But I firmly believe that it only scratches at your horizon boundaries without truly pushing them.
If someone asks us why we choose to send our child to study abroad, our answer is, Why wouldn’t we? She will learn so much by leaving her familiar surroundings and seeing something different with her own eyes — and international travel is something that every member of our family enjoys. The rewards for her will be incredible, I have no doubt.
About the Author: My name is Ilya Burlak; I am an IT Executive in Financial Services. My wife and I have three beautiful daughters and we reside in New Jersey. We love travelling, have been to many places in Europe, and I occasionally reminisce about past travels on my blog, Burlaki on the Hudson.