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Five Ways Teachers Can Inspire Students to Study Abroad

Today, Susannah Martin, a secondary school German language teacher at the Sacramento Waldorf School in California, shares ways to inspire students to travel abroad. Join me on Twitter this Thursday, February 18 at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific to discuss how teachers can use travel experiences to help students make local connections to global issues. Just search for #GlobalEdChat to join the conversation!

by guest blogger Susannah Martin

As teachers, one of our main goals is to prepare students for an enriching life beyond their academic experience. We attempt to show every individual that there are infinite opportunities beyond the already familiar. We need them to know that they really can do what they want to do, and that they never stop learning and growing.  

A major part of this process is providing an accessible opening to the world beyond their state, beyond even their hometown, and proving that travel, study abroad, and learning foreign languages are extremely valuable. Study abroad is truly the quintessential element to not just personal and academic development, but also to helping young people find their place in the wider world and expand their independence. Study abroad fuels language growth and cultural curiosity, and living in other countries helps students use their learned language and life skills in ways never before imagined.

It's been my experience as a German instructor and study abroad leader that far too many students and their parents or caretakers can't even conceive of study abroad as an option—it is for the wealthy, the smarter, the adventurous, or simply just the others, and so they put the thought out of their consciousness.

I use following five actions to inspire my students and their families to bring study abroad back into their minds as an option.

1.  Be the conduit
It is extremely vital that teachers provide the connection to study abroad, as many parents and even administrators are not in the position to be able to do so. We need to use our excitement about study abroad to ignite and spread that same excitement in our students. We need to be happy, fun, organized, knowledgeable, experienced, structured, consequential, and eager to reach every single student and show them how study abroad, with foreign language, really is doable and beneficial.  

2.  Make a personal connection
We must make a personal connection to every student, learn their likes and dislikes, find out what their goals are, get to know them as people. This isn't easy—it takes time and genuine interest. Once we make the connection, though, the magic happens. We can then personalize every lesson, every time. 

3.  Make it a game
I always say that my class is a game and everyone has to play. The trick is (and I don't hide this) I am going to win, because everyone will speak German and eventually everyone will go to Germany, Switzerland, or Austria. I take out the "if" and put in "WHEN." Little things like this make a difference. It changes the mindset, and makes what might seem implausible to my students perfectly reasonable. 

4.  Find the programs, find the money
For the most part, the quality of study abroad programs is consistently good, some better and more generous than others. Many offer scholarships, even full rides, as well as fundraising help. Spending a bit of time learning about the different programs and seeking out financial opportunities, as well as how other teachers review and rate them, can lead to beneficial contacts and relationships.

5. Share the stories
Students who have made the proverbial leap of faith and have studied abroad are in the perfect position to encourage their peers to also go. They need room to give a presentation to talk about their experiences, to show pictures, to bring in souvenirs and mementos of their time away, and especially to honestly answer the many questions. We need to then not just add their snapshots to our pin boards but to go to our administrators and get space in newsletters, time at parent meetings, and even additional school-wide time to present to all grade levels. 

I am extremely heartened and humbled by the feedback I received from the students I led on a program in Berlin last summer through CIEE: The Council on International Educational Exchange. A selection of quotes:

From Jack M., 16, "I learned a lot from my time in Berlin and... this showed me that I shouldn't be afraid, but seek out the opportunity to experience other cultures. No matter where people come from, they're just that, people; the differences we have are simply opportunities to see life from new and sometimes better perspectives."


Jacob G., 17, said:  "The past summer made me much more independent and wanting to go out and try new things, not being afraid of new experiences. The summer to me means fun, friends and good times!!" 

And finally, from Brittney B., 16, "Nothing I will ever say and nothing I will ever do could even begin to describe what an extraordinary month I was given the opportunity to experience. All the smiles, laughs, stress, and tears joined together, creating an indescribable adventure that will never have the opportunity to be explained."

Isn't that the sort of growth we want to see in young people? Independence and the desire to try extraordinary new things? I proclaim a resounding yes! 

German medieval Emperor Karolus Magnus (sometimes known as Charlemagne) said that to know another language is to possess another soul. I will take that further and include living in another country. I studied abroad in Germany as a young woman and it indelibly changed my life and my perspective of the world for the better. 

By allowing ourselves to change and grow, and by emboldening others to do the same, especially young people, who therewith become sympathetic to another culture, we breed curiosity, tolerance and compassion, traits we can all benefit from having.

Image courtesy of the author.

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