Why Students Should Still Study Abroad

Since the academic year started, both beheadings from militant groups and the coverage of Ebola have gone viral. Concerned parents want to know if their son or daughter will get a disease or if life outside the United States is safe. Judging solely by the cable news outlets, one would remain almost paranoid as one crisis after another seems to get around-the-clock coverage.

Yet, nearly 300,000 U.S. students will study abroad in a given year and that is still a good thing. And yes, students should still consider study abroad and there are many reasons, but let me briefly explore three of them.

First, we live in an interconnected, economically interdependent, and increasingly globalized world.

Atlanta, Georgia

Last week, I was in Atlanta, Georgia, for meetings. Every meeting was within the same hotel or walking distance from the hotel, so my experience was rather narrow. Yet, in travels, that's been consistent. One may not know the depth of the experience, until arrival. Honestly, depth also comes from ordinary places and ordinary moments. 

While at dinner one night, the southern fried chicken, gravy, and fixings was outstanding, but I was struck more with Richard, our waiter. He not only was exceptional in his service, he took time to connect with us and in doing so, earned himself a substantial tip (ok, it helped that a successful international attorney was in our dinner party). Richard loves people or fakes it as well as anyone I've seen. More than this: Richard serves people in a way that invites us all to consider our service.

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Mercy Hospital

I was born in a hospital with the word ‘mercy’ in the title. My wife and children were born in the same hospital, different than mine, but still it had the word ‘mercy’ in the title. This seems fitting on so many levels, but still early in a new year, let’s reflect a bit on where we all started.

We all started in need of help. Think of how many people surrounded your coming in to this world. There were doctors, nurses, hospital staff, friends, and family. And at no point, in the very beginning, did you and I do much on our own. Mercy.

Each and every time we are faced with a difficult time, perhaps one that puts in a hospital, we want things to get better. We want to feel well again. We want to make better diet and life decisions.

Tags | Global | Grace | mercy | new days

Where will you go this Year?

In Elton Trueblood's book entitled Lessons in Spiritual Leadership, he notes that Abraham Lincoln's leadership was influenced not only by a growing self-awareness and events of real suffering, but he was also influenced by Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Washington D.C.

In 2015, I found myself in: New York, Italy, East Africa, the Netherlands, Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Washington D.C. and a host of other spots. And my worldview is impacted at various points along the way. Now, if you believe a worldview is simply a stoic framework, then you probably have a bit of trouble with the idea that a sense of place can impact one's own awareness. Yet, I dare say that we are all influenced by and influencers of the places we find ourselves in.

How you influence those places that you pass through and how those same places influence you matter.

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Main Street; Morrison, Illinois

Is home the same place you grew up?

Hopefully, you don't think the question is stupid, mundane, or trivial. I think it's important because I think most people are searching for home. Current refugees are in search of a place where good wins out and where they can put down roots and live in peace. Soldiers fight for our homeland. We lock doors at night because we want to protect loved ones and because we want to rest at home.

Yet, my current home is not where I grew up--though Morrison remains my hometown. My stepfather's real estate office is on Main Street, right across from where the bakery used to be--where my grandfather bought me donuts every Friday morning during my middle school and high school years. There is an annual 'paint the town' event on Main Street and it's where homecoming parades marched down and I remember the storefronts being decorated for some home basketball games.

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221B Baker Street

One of the most famous addresses in the world isn't a real one. Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character who lived in London at 221B Baker Street. It's a place people went to for help and the address still looms large.
What address comes to mind when you are at your wit's end? In recent current events, we will have heard now of Syria and we understand that we have a history with Russia. We know that refugees seeking help are seeking also an address--a place where one can either call home or visit to feel at home. I can tell you that I grew up on Henry Rd and later moved to Portland Avenue and Heaton Street. Most people could care less, but I knew where I received mail and I knew a place that was called mine.
It's what we want leaders to protect when they go to war.
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Illinois Countryside

I recall once a friend saying to me, "never forget where you came from". And I wonder, where is that for you? The fascinating part is that none of us, to my knowledge, gets to pick where we're from. In fact, we all start as part of someone else's home. Some couple united to give birth to us and we were suddenly a part of another person's home address.

Then, something rather amazing happens. We start to embrace or look for our own home. I truly believe that so much of our own journey in this life is trying to find that place or that person that makes us feel at home.

Because I have received mail in Arizona, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, England, and Hong Kong, I now feel adaptable and pretty flexible. I also feel like my home is rather confusing--at least in an emotional sense. For example, I know London, England, as a city better than I do Minneapolis, even though I grew up a six hour drive from Minnesota. Why? Because for a while, I actually lived in England. I may visit other cities, but truly seeking to make a life elsewhere means something.

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Gotham City

As long as I can remember, I have been interested in the world of Batman. Since I was pre-kindergarten, I used a towel  for a cape and donned a mask and tried to save the city against the likes of the Joker, the Penguin, or the Riddler. The truth remains: I still am a fan of the Dark Knight.

In fact, let me point out a few similarities.

We have the same initials: BW.

We both can point to emotional distress and loss as a catalyst for certain decisions and actions.

We both are more nocturnal than the average person and both have a rather tight inner circle. Oh, and there’s more, but you are already rolling your eyes a bit, so I’ll stop here for now.

Upstate New York

Most people are busy. That's what we say to each other. 

"Hey, Fred, how are things? Are you keeping busy," asks Barney.

"Yep, looking forward to a break," says Fred.

And they pass each other thinking that that is good, normal, and productive. Keeping busy has become an expectation. We expect to be pulled in different directions and we expect others to also go from one activity to the next. And we hardly give such things a second thought.

But busyness is not a sign of good work or productivity. Busyness, in fact, may be a form of lazyness. It may be a way to avoid setting priorities and it may be a way to numb out and it may be something that is simply not good.

Traveling recently to upstate New York to get away, I found a sense of rhythm again. Unforced and unrehearsed. And guess what? I was still productive. I still managed to get some things done.

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Dubai: Reflections on Modern Change

On the way to Africa a few years back, I stopped in Dubai. It's like Phoenix, with way more money. The airport is impressive and the clash between what's modern and what's tradition and what's western and what's eastern is both dazzling and dizzying.

If you've seen the MIssion Impossible: Ghost Protocol film, you'll note that Dubai is prominent as the heroes navigate tall buildings and sandstorms. Dubai encapsulates modernity's rise in a centuries old desert. Os Guinness notes in his book The Last Christian on Earth that "Christians have always shown a curious inability to consider things from a long-term perspective." The latest isn't always the greatest.

How, then, do we hold on to ancient wisdom in an era of restlessness? What happens to long-term or longview leadership in an age of start-ups?

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About
As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.


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