As college students, we are in an essential stage of social and mental development. The more unfamiliar experiences we take in as newly independent adults, the more our brains crave the unexplored. For thousands of students across the nation, studying abroad satisfies this hunger while shaping their understanding of how societies interact. In response to an increase in study abroad programs over the past several years, Michael Pippenger of Columbia College states that “students want to be challenged … They want a transformative experience, and often they get it.” Especially at Wheaton, the desire to be challenged and transformed is natural. According to the mission statement, Wheaton College seeks to promote excellence in academics while educating the whole person to build the church and benefit society worldwide. However, this “whole person” aspect, for many, cannot be fully satisfied in Midwestern suburbia.
The Center for Global and Experiential Learning is a relatively new initiative that seeks to boost the kingdom aspect of Wheaton’s mission. Each year, hundreds of students choose to spend anywhere from several weeks to an entire semester living, learning and interacting in a foreign setting. GEL works closely with students to individualize the study abroad experience, and programs are available on every continent. On Feb. 4, GEL will be hosting a study abroad fair that will focus on programs around the world available to help students gain a global perspective. Any student that is considering studying abroad while at Wheaton should attend to learn about the myriad of spring break, summer and semester opportunities in many areas of study. Specifically, there will be a large focus on studying foreign languages.
Global Engagement Committee Communications Director sophomore Evan Giesecke, stressed the importance of foreign languages as a means of connecting and forming relationships with individuals and cultures across the world. Simply put, learning a foreign language should be viewed as more than an academic necessity. Giesecke said, “Even as Christians, you cannot effectively communicate the gospel unless you speak a person’s mother tongue.”
Though he has not yet studied abroad through one of Wheaton’s programs, Giesecke has lived and studied in both Greece and Germany and remembers that time as formative in increasing his understanding about the world and how different cultures function. He recommends that every student should study abroad in order to gain a global perspective and know all of God’s people better.
Studies suggest that full immersion is the best way to learn a language because it helps the student achieve native-like processing and understand cultural implications. In fact, a region’s language is so influenced by its corresponding culture that it is almost impossible to gain fluency without immersion. Aside from academic benefits, learning how to interact in foreign cultures nourishes us socially while opening our eyes and minds to different ways of living, thinking and interacting. Studying abroad is an excellent way to increase the understanding of a society, gain intercultural skills and gain fluency and confidence in a foreign language. Additionally, studying abroad enhances future employment opportunities.
The New York Times claims that “learning how to interact with people from other countries and cultures equips future leaders in all sectors to address urgent issues shared across borders.”
Regardless of whether you plan to live and work locally or globally, this type of understanding, as well as fluency in foreign languages, is becoming more necessary as peoples and countries continue to mingle. In our efforts to become effective Christians, cross-cultural experience is essential; whether through Wheaton in Chicago, Human Needs and Global Resources or studying abroad, the Center for Global and Experiential Learning seeks to satisfy this need while exposing students to perspectives that cannot be gained anywhere else. If we are willing to learn from other cultures, we can be formed into more flexible, complex and global thinkers.