Forehead to forehead, nose to nose, I kept my head bent and shared a breath with the Maori elders in a traditional greeting called the “hongi” at the entrance to their home. It was a singular and spectacular experience that highlighted the cultural difference I was exploring in my travels over the New Zealand land.
When I told a friend about that moment, they called it “one hell of a vacation.”
I call it an essential part to a comprehensive education.
Chapman University’s mission statement reads as the following: To provide personalized education of distinction that leads to inquiring, ethical and productive lives as global citizens. Becoming global citizens is in the very mission statement of our educational institution, yet only 550 students of the entire student population every year travel for some sort of abroad program. While this is statistically better than most undergraduate universities, some schools like Pepperdine University require all students to go abroad at least once before they can graduate, because how is a student meant to become a global citizen without ever leaving the country?
However, with the exception of cases in which students are denied an abroad program due to lack of space, Chapman isn’t responsible for this lack of student abroad involvement. Instead, the main obstacle seems to be a general stigma that education and travel are two separate things. The same stigma that labeled my semester abroad as a vacation or “break from school,” rather than it’s own educational experience.
This stigma is problematic for several reasons, the first being that in this day and age it’s no longer acceptable to be disconnected from the rest of the world. With our instantaneous and far reaching technology, we are the generation that has truly embodied Marshall McLuhan’s envision of the “global village.”
But technology is only part of what solidifies our connection to far away places, we still need the in-person cultural experiences that help us relate and empathize with our fellow global citizens, and these experiences can truly only be made through travel. If we aspire to any sort of high achievement in life, our connections to the “global village” must be strong.
Travel teaches you things you can’t learn in your home country, no matter how far away you attend university. In college I still had a support system made up of my friends, peers, advisors, and sorority. My parents were only a phone call away. I always had someone close enough to help if I truly needed it.
While I was abroad I had to make sure that any help or support I needed met the short Skype window provided by the time difference.
Instead of falling back on these familiar resources, however, I found myself becoming more and more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I spent weekends traveling with strangers or people I had only just met, I explored parts of the country alone at times, and I got used to doing most things by myself.
In five months I learned more about independence than I knew over the previous 19 years of my life. It taught me to take care of myself and my mental health and to treat any mistakes I made as opportunities for growth.
Travel should be seen as a requirement to a diversified and complete education, and not a privilege or leisure, because to call travel a privilege is to call all of education a privilege, and education is not only essential for a developing worldly society, in my opinion, it’s a human right.