The student weekly of St. Olaf College
Manitou Messenger: Study abroad = party time?

Study abroad = party time?

By Maren Gelle
Copy Editor
Friday, May 9, 2008

You get what you pay for. At least, in a capitalistic society, that is what we are supposed to believe. Sometimes that proverb holds. A meal at Taco Bell probably won't taste as good as one at Tejas. As the price of a hotel room decreases, your chances of sleeping with rodents or insects rise exponentially. You may want to be selective when picking up old furniture on the side of a road, even if the owner did post a "free" sign.

As the semester comes quickly to a close, many Oles are mentally preparing to leave the Hill for seven or eight months to study abroad fall semester. Many others are currently applying for Interim 2009 programs. Because of the falling American dollar and rising gas prices, the cost of St. Olaf study abroad programs have increased dramatically in the last year. A lot of students are asking if it is really worth it, if they will get what they pay for. The answer to that question depends on what you are looking for. If you want to avoid the blustery winds of Interim on the Hill and spend the month on the beach, you can probably find a program that will get you there. If you want to drink foreign beer and have a crazy story to tell when you return, you can likely do that too (just don't tell the International Studies office). If you want bragging rights, take some pictures of yourself in front of famous places and send a postcard to all those you left behind. Paying for a study abroad program will get you on your way to achieving your goals. A tan, a beer and a postcard are all things you can buy.

Some St. Olaf students, however, want more. They don't just want a vacation; they want a new perspective on the world and their role in it. According to the International Studies website, the study abroad programs are designed to help students meet this goal with a variety of programs that "enhance students' global perspective by helping them encounter and understand changes confronting our world in a context of global community and world citizenship." You cannot buy that.

You cannot pay anyone to open your eyes for youyou will have to make that effort all on your own. You have to go abroad with an open mind, not an open wallet. You can buy souvenirs. You can even buy experiences. But you cannot buy a new perspective.

So, if you are trying to decide whether a St. Olaf abroad program is worth the money, the answer simply depends. Whether or not that tan or beer or postcard is worth a couple thousand is up to you. But for the same amount of money, you could get a lot more. To get more out of your study abroad experience (and more for your money), you have to want more.

A plane ticket and a place to stay cost money, but once you get there, you can talk to people with different perspectives. Engaging in meaningful conversation, or even just listening, can change the way you see the world. If you stop focusing on the "stuff" you can buy, study abroad programs can provide meaningful experiences that will forever change how you see yourself and the world around you.

You can begin to understand a different way of life. You can become a member of a new family in a home stay halfway across the globe, learn foreign customs and manners, engage in solving problems like poverty and hunger and illness and hear what other people think about you as an American. After all, people are far more valuable than things. In order to learn from them, however, you have to step out of your comfort zone, forget any preconceived notions you may have about his or her culture and want to learn from them. If you want to get more than just things, you have to put more into your trip than just money. You will soon find that experiential learning (without sounding too much like a MasterCard commercial) is priceless.

Copy editor Maren Gelle '10 is from Lakeville, Minn. She majors in American studies and history with a concentration in media studies.

The Manitou Messenger is a student publication of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. It is published weekly during the academic year except during vacations, exam periods and interim. The cost for one year's subscription is $45.00. Postage is paid in Northfield, Minnesota. Manitou Messenger
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