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Traveling abroad helps you become a better citizen

Students need to go abroad to get global perspective that can make them better citizens at home

Katie Malles travels in Lisbon, Portugal in summer 2016.

Katie Malles travels in Lisbon, Portugal in summer 2016.

One of the best ways to better understand home is by getting away.

ASU students should make efforts to experience other cultures and governments through study abroad and similar overseas programs in order to gain a better appreciation and understanding for our own culture and government. 

There is plenty of evidence in support of study abroad and other programs as positive education experiences that build resumes. However, there is not as much focus upon how students gain important global perspectives. 

"When you have an opportunity to experience a foreign system, it makes it easier to judge the strengths and weaknesses of your own system. By experiencing other cultures, the individual becomes more effective at understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their own government," said Melissa Samuelson, a clinical professor of comparative politics with study abroad experience. 

Unfortunately, the data tracking student involvement in study abroad programs shows that far too many students in the U.S. are not getting that global perspective, especially when compared to the number of international students that come to the U.S. 

Only about one in ten students nationally will spend time abroad as an undergraduate, and ASU's latest data on study abroad provides an even bleaker outlook. Less than 2.5 percent of the University's 73,373 enrolled students in 2012 were involved in a study abroad program. 

Experiences abroad give students global perspectives and the tools necessary to appreciate and understand our own systems of government. 

"I studied abroad in a very exciting time in Nepal. There were many times when cities would engage in a 'bandh' that effectively shut the city down," Samuelson said. 

"It's very easy to be critical of the U.S. like with freedom of the press, but experiencing media blackout and other things gives the individual a new appreciation for our own systems," he said.

Too many citizens are already lacking in understanding of our government. Students need to go through study abroad and other overseas experiences in order to gain context for why our government works the way it does.

 With that context and global perspective, students can become constructive members of society that can appreciate and understand their own government by being able to compare it with others. 

"With each passing day, our world is getting more global," said Kaitlyn Teske, a graduate Spanish teaching associate with study abroad experience. 

"Study abroad helps the student to realize that their life is not the norm, and that not everyone has the same set of privileges," she said.

If ASU students ever have the feasible opportunity to study abroad, they need to take advantage. Studying abroad is beneficial not just for their own growth as students and professionals, but as citizens who are able to apply a global perspective to appreciate their own country as well as the world around them. 

Now more than ever, students can take advantage of financial assistance to make study abroad a more realistic opportunity. For example, the study abroad office offers financial aid and scholarships, and students who participate in exchange programs pay ASU tuition. 

"Study abroad was the best decision I ever made," Teske said. "The other side of the world isn't so far away anymore." 

Students can reach new personal and intellectual heights through study abroad, they just have to be willing to take that step. 

Reach the columnist at or follow @jonahpbaker on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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