Anytime you can experience the richness of cultures different from your own — by talking with people of other nationalities, travelling internationally, trying foods from other countries and embracing other educational experiences that fall outside of your comfort zone — you grow and change in positive ways. And this is just the kind of personal development that can help you stand out in the eyes of college admissions counselors and future employers in a competitive field of other strong candidates.
For those who can physically get away, international travel, cultural immersion programs and volunteer abroad service programs offer unparalleled exposure to the customs, language and everyday life of diverse communities. This experience is imperative for anyone who’s serious about pursuing public service or global relations work as part of a business or political career.
Specifically, here are five ways educational travel can improve your life:
Sharpens self-awareness: Gathering firsthand information about the world — seeing different landscapes, experiencing the challenges of certain cultures, listening to the opinions of people in other nations — provides a level of mindfulness that’s often tough to shake. Profound experiences give people a sense of place and purpose, and they establish lifelong values and priorities.
Enhances perspective: Exposure to the problems and perks of other lifestyles helps people break out of cultural-centric thinking. Having a broad awareness of how other people live and what other cultures prioritize can trigger solutions and ideas that don’t necessarily rely on familiar habits and comforts. Cultural immersion through travel and service programs can also help break down language barriers and open new channels of lifelong communication.
Fosters independence: Living and working for any amount of time in a culture that’s different from home can help prepare students for college in ways more profound than any sleep-away camp or vacation can. This enriching experience challenges students to open their minds regarding food, friends and basic needs. After all, it’s tougher to take things for granted in unfamiliar situations.
Strengthens leadership skills: A person who’s been there and done that simply has more credibility than those who rely on lip service. Instead of relying on others’ opinions, travelers establish perspective, confidence and conviction that make it easier to gain the respect of others. Plus, international travel, especially with a group or through a program, provides students with a global network of contacts and references.
Demonstrates courage: Travelling away from the comfort of friends, family and familiar surroundings is tough. But doing it shows that a person is interested enough in the rest of the world, and confident enough in him- or herself to venture out and discover other parts of the world. This is a character trait that’s very appealing to colleges and employers.
No matter what your life goals are, travel can provide important perspectives and help you discover what really makes you tick. Explore high school volunteer abroad programs and find out how international travel can make a real difference in your life.