In the spirit of International Education Week (Nov. 14-18), we’re posting articles that highlight how high school students can feel empowered by engaging in an international education. This post is part of a short series that will be published this week.
Studying abroad is among the best ways to explore a new culture, see a new part of the world and open your mind – there is no doubt that by immersing yourself in a foreign environment, you are required to step outside your comfort zone and grow. Eventually you become accustomed to this once-foreign environment. It soon begins to feel natural, and this tends to foster feelings of empowerment and pride.
Students who have studied abroad for any part of their high school or university education have described experiencing “the post-year abroad blues” – a type of backwards culture shock when they return home. But what happens when the culture shock subsides? Do they feel they can open the minds of the peers and countrymen who haven’t studied abroad just by sharing their own experiences? Do they continue to feel empowered at home?
We spoke to Salvador Garcia Santos Rivera, a 2014 EF Academy Oxford graduate from Mexico, and Denise Lichthardt, a 2016 EF Academy Torbay graduate from Germany. Both alumni returned to their home countries for university after earning their IB Diplomas in the UK.
Denise is studying Physics at the University of Erlangen. When describing her time abroad, she says that at first she didn’t want to go, but in the end she didn’t want to leave.
“It was quite different than what I was used to in Germany, the school was smaller and everything was in English, which I had to get used to at first. I enjoyed meeting so many new people from around the world and hearing about their experiences in their countries,” she says.
Salvador has the same appreciation for his international experience and says that what really made him want to study abroad was the opportunity to gain a different view of the world and experience different cultures, while receiving a good education.
“The reason why I stayed a second year to complete my IB program was because of the academic experience. The teachers really pushed me forward,” he says. “Since I’ve graduated, I really miss Oxford, my friends, my teachers and the international experience.”
What the two EF Academy grads have in common despite coming from different parts of the world and graduating two years apart is that they truly believe their open-mindedness is an asset and that their international experiences distinguish them from their classmates at university.
Salvador has taken the IB Learner Profile to heart and it guides him in Mexico City where he is currently leading a political movement while earning a degree in Law at Pan-American University. He and his fellow movement leaders intend to make changes and proposals to amend the constitution of Mexico City.
“There are a lot of IB students involved and we are all trying to make improvements. We are trying to do something new for the city because it deserves it. The bad things that have happened – we have to leave them behind and create something new that is adapted to our current views,” he explains. “I think the IB helps create people who can do anything without any limits.”
While Salvador’s university is quite international – he says about 50% of students have studied abroad and the university is engaged in exchange programs with schools in the U.S. – he still misses the internationalism of EF Academy.
Denise is experiencing something similar but she is in an environment that is predominantly German.
“I’m hoping to meet people from other countries at university,” she says. “I found that I feel more comfortable around people from other countries, probably because that is what I am used to. I feel like it’s more narrow-minded here because most people just finished high school and haven’t experienced something special in their lives.”
This feeling of being different is important to Salvador and Denise and it shapes how they feel in their environments and their home countries. They’ve taken their experiences abroad back home with them and are now using the skills they developed and the knowledge they gained to drive the actions they take.
“My plan was to stay in the UK and attend the London School of Economics, but when it was time to make the decision, I chose to move back [to Mexico] because I knew there were going to be a lot of changes and if I wasn’t going to be part of that, I wasn’t going to contribute to my country,” Salvador says. “The decision helped me be an agent of change. To be an active person is to help.”
Salvador’s and Denise’s stories are ones of success and highlight one of the most impressive parts of what can happen after seeing the world – the ability to influence change by using an open mind. Salvador, empowered by what he has seen and learned, is the heart and motor of a movement in the city he comes from. And eventually, after more time in this somewhat new environment, Denise will likely bond with students who are just as open-minded and international as she is, enriching the culture of her school.
Though many students who study abroad in high school stay abroad for university, there is certainly something to be said for those who return home and bring communities together by applying what they learned and empowering others by sharing their experiences.
EF Academy International Boarding Schools opens a world of opportunities for high school students by providing them with a superior education abroad, thorough preparation for university and a future that knows no borders.