Travel broadens the mind

Posted by: Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Road, blue sky, horizonDo you remember your first overseas trip? Perhaps it was an exchange or volunteering program? Perhaps you were just heading off to travel with no set plans. Can you remember that feeling of venturing into the unknown? When you look back, think of what you got out of that experience: you learnt about coping with new situations, people and cultures, your values and beliefs were challenged. And whether you loved it or hated it, or had mixed feelings at the time, it probably had a huge impact on the person you are today.

Over 400 years ago Francis Bacon wrote: ‘Travel in the youngest sort, is part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.Bacon captures here something essential  about the added benefit of travelling when you’re young and impressionable.

Recently I attended a Student Mobility function at RMIT where students spoke about their experiences overseas.  A 3rd year Primary Education student spoke about her experience teaching in the Cook Islands.  It was invigorating to listen to her talk with such enthusiasm and passion about her time away and how she had grown from the experience.

She talked about how after that placement she knew she was ready to enter a classroom with confidence and that she could do the job required.  One could say that the first three years of her undergraduate degree equipped her with the skills and knowledge required to teach but for her it was the experience in a foreign land that was the catalyst in giving her the confidence required.

During the function, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own international experience.  I was 21 and in my final year of Youth Work and as part of my student placement (an early form of WIL — Work Integrated Learning) I travelled to Zambia to visit a number of rural youth projects. In four weeks we travelled more than 5,000 km travelling through cities, towns and villages. By stepping out of my comfort zone I was forced to reflect upon my own sense of self, I was challenged on so many fronts; it was ‘experiential learning’ in the truest sense of the term.

RMIT University is an international university of technology, committed to providing students with the learning, teaching, research and training to excel in an open world economy — a Global Passport. RMIT’s Strategic Plan 2015 has ‘Global’as one of its three goals.  It’s Internationalisation Plan 2011-2015  identifies as a priority the growth of Student Mobility in order to build upon our profile as a global university of technology and design.

In order to excel in ‘an open world economy’ an overseas experience can play a critical role. It is only when we leave the safe confines of our shores and venture forth into the unfamiliar that we can truly begin to step outside of our comfort zone. It is then that learning is not only accelerated but leaves a lasting impact particularly upon young minds.

Studying abroad can help to broaden students’ horizons and it can do this in a number of ways:

  • For me, my trip to Zambia allowed me to come face to face with a number of challenges but also allowed me to experience a foreign language and to communicate across cultures.
  • I had to come to terms with the challenges inherent in a developing country; I had never realised how much I took some things for granted like elections or access to fresh water.
  • It was also a key step in my independence, I was thousands of kilometres from family or friends, my most important networks were within my host country.

In short, like the Education student above, even this brief time was the catalyst for a number of abilities and resources I still draw upon to this day in my work and in my relationships.

If this has got you interested, RMIT has its own dedicated team that encourage, support and foster student mobility within the University. The Education Abroad Office has a number of Student Mobility Advisors who between them have conveniently divided up the globe and are able to give advice to students looking to experience overseas study.

In the new academic year you might think about encouraging your students to consider as an option the prospect of undertaking an overseas experience as part of their study.  The following resources may prove useful:

  • RMIT provides a number of opportunities for students wishing to undertake an International experience.
  • RMIT also provides Student Mobility Grants to assist Melbourne-based students who are undertaking various types of outbound mobility activities as part of their RMIT Program.
  • Staff from the Education Abroad Office offer to come and speak to your students about overseas mobility opportunities. Just email with ‘Class Talk’ in the header and they will get in touch with you. 

For those interested in — or still sceptical about — the benefits of an overseas experience there is an upcoming workshop (see below) that examines how international WIL experiences can develop intercultural competencies in students.

Title: Implementing international Work Integrated Learning programs: strategies and outcomes
Date: Thursday, 8 November
Time: 1.30pm-3.30pm
Venue: Building 80, level 7, room 9, City campus

Share your thoughts about student mobility and exchanges in the comments below!

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