Stepping outside your comfort zone is one of the most exciting ways to learn about yourself and the world. Whether you realize it or not, every time you visit a new place or talk to someone from a different background, you’re experiencing culturally immersive education, one of the best ways to broaden your worldview and create common ground with other people. So, what is culturally immersive education, and why is it important? Let’s dive in.
Culturally immersive education 101
Culturally immersive education is a form of hands-on learning that involves experiencing a culture other than your own to understand its customs and ways of life. Whether you are a student or a traveler, a teen or a grandparent, this kind of education can help you learn more about the globe; apply what you have learned to the real world; challenge preconceived ideas and strengthen values; and help you push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Culturally immersive education can occur in many ways, such as:
- A French class’s trip to Paris to learn about French culture and practice language skills
- Someone learning independence and confidence as they travel abroad for the first time
- A foreign exchange student who spends a year with a host family and attends the local high school
- A tourist who visits a family-run farm and cooks a regional dish with the owner, who tells them about the previous generations who settled the region
“Cross-cultural education is more important than ever in a world where everything is interconnected. Societal challenges – and even small problems we face in our everyday lives – will only be solved if we’re able to empathize with one another,” said Keri Charles, Vice President at EF High School Exchange Year, an associated organization of EF. “Exploring the world and experiencing another person’s way of life builds compassion and understanding while challenging our beliefs. This willingness to consider others’ situations and viewpoints is key, whether you’re trying to promote global diplomacy or even collaborate with a colleague overseas. If we can instill this appetite for understanding from an early age, we will build toward a brighter, more collaborative tomorrow.”
Opening the world
At EF, we believe that the world is better when people try to understand each other. For more than 55 years, we’ve created education platforms to help people communicate, experience other cultures, and expand their knowledge. Throughout our history, we’ve created new ways to merge education and cultural exchange, and these programs have given confidence to millions of people of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds.
The scale of EF’s offerings makes us one of the only organizations capable of offering so many ways to learn; at EF, you might hone your English in San Diego, explore Bali’s beaches with new friends, or use augmented reality to observe what it was like to land on Normandy’s beaches as an Allied soldier. And, our customers learn straight from the experts, whether it’s a passionate Tour Director, an enthusiastic English-language teacher, or an educational partner like the Nobel Prize Museum.
“Empathy and learning are always top-of-mind whenever we build a new offering,” said Kate Berseth, Executive Vice President at EF Education First. “We’re always looking for creative ways to help customers engage with their peers and the community they’re visiting, whether they’re there for a day or a year. It’s our job to help nudge them toward mutual understanding, and our teams are experts in finding opportunities to do so that are both fun and growth-oriented.”
These culturally immersive experiences help EF travelers achieve growth and learning in their own unique ways:
- “There is a huge lesson in building empathy, that is one of my priorities. The culture and the language are really important, but it helps kids be better people if they can meet more people that aren’t exactly like them” – Cal, Group Leader and Spanish teacher
- “I didn’t know how, or why, but I knew that travel was supposed to be a part of my life. As soon as I came back from my first trip, I decided to take in other perspectives that I hadn’t noticed before. I took more chances, I learned to forgive, and I became such a better global citizen. And I realized I had such potential to have an impact on the world. I can thank travel for not only changing my job route but changing my life. I think that’s what makes me feel so empowered and motivated to take a more active role in making the world a better place.” – Alexis, student
- “I advocate for travel because the world is vast and diverse. If we want to truly understand our neighbors in other states or countries, we must reach out and meet them where they live. Travel provides a glimpse into another world that our students may have Googled or watched on a device, but living it with the smells, food, smiles, and various challenges teaches flexibility, tolerance and understanding, and empathy.” – Chuck, Group Leader
Everyone has a role to play in contributing to a more open, empathetic world, and we can all make a difference by prioritizing compassion and understanding. EF is proud to make these culturally immersive experiences possible, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.