Thursday, December 4, 2014

Essay Contest Winners: How Studying Abroad Can Change the World

In October, WES Student Advisor asked you for submissions for our 2014 Essay Contest. The prompt was inspired by a Nelson Mandela quote -- "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" -- and it asked readers to describe how studying abroad can help change the world.

We received some very powerful submissions. Many of the essays focused on the power of education to fight poverty, ignorance and oppression. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Today we want to share with you one of the winning entries.

Congratulations to our five winners: Oreoluwa Philip, Jasmeet Singh, Purva Gautam, Deepti Gupta, and Nastaran. Each winner is eligible for a free personal essay review or resume consultation from WES. Below is one of the winning essays, written by Deepti Gupta.

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Paulo Freire, a renowned Brazilian scholar, disapproves of today's education system. In his work "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," he says that student-teacher relationships are narrative in character. The teacher "fills" the students with the contents of his or her narration. The students record and memorize that narration. This turns them into "receptacles" to be "filled" by the teacher. Education thus becomes an act of depositing, where the students perform the role of depositories while teachers play the role of depositors. This is known as the "banking" concept of education. Freire says that in the name of the "preservation of culture and knowledge" our system fails in achieving both true knowledge and culture. He advocates for a "problem posing" education that makes students critical thinkers and fosters in them creativity and divergent thinking skills.

This merits attention in an increasingly interconnected and globalized world. How can our posterity develop a sensitive and sensible disposition to become "Global Citizens," ready to embrace the world and make progressive changes in our societies? How do we find solutions to daunting challenges in health care, education, poverty and the environment that require everybody’s attention and thoughts? Are we in this modern world really equipped to make this big transformation? Emerging out of these discussions and debates, studying abroad has been found to be a great way for students to explore the world, mingle with different cultures and expand their horizons. It provides students with an opportunity to experience firsthand a new culture, learn a different language, and build a compassionate and understanding outlook toward a new social paradigm. They learn to cut across stereotypes about people, countries and cultures they have never interacted with before. By acquiring this plethora of experiences, they become globally savvy.

In March 2014, Michelle Obama in her visit to China commented: "I'm blessed to have so many phenomenal cultural experiences, everything from traveling to so many parts of Africa, to meeting with the Pope at the Vatican, to being here at Peking University. Everywhere I go, I'm always struck by the reality that we have so much more in common throughout the world, regardless of where we're born, our race, our religious beliefs. We're all striving for the best for our communities and for our families. This is why study abroad is so important. The more young people get the opportunity to travel the world, live in other cultures and learn new languages, the more they will begin to understand our shared ideals and the shared opportunities to keep moving this world forward."

Given all its merits, study abroad should be integrated into the curriculum. Educational institutions should incorporate proper cross-cultural preparation to help international students appreciate and internalize what they learn. In addition, study abroad programs should aim to increase access, especially across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic profiles. Institutions, educators and parents can all play an integral role in making international and cross-cultural programs an important part of the modern learning agenda.

-Deepti Gupta

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Again, congratulations to all our 2014 Essay Contest winners, and thank you to everyone who participated!

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