Studying abroad proves more educational than classroom learning for student

by Mark Pleiss

It was a whole different world, and I wasn’t 10 minutes from Texas.

Round metal pegs took the place of speed bumps, and signs I would normally recognize upon mere glance took an additional second to understand.

The people weren’t white anymore. As we drove deeper and deeper, police cars and street vendors lined the shoulder. The air breathed different, and the foreign smells were overwhelming. No one drove Mercedes or Jaguars.

Well, except for the drug dealers.

It was my first time outside the country. The foot I had always preferred to keep on known ground had finally been removed. I was in a better position than most, since I was accompanied by my roommate-guide who had grown up in Juarez, but I was still slightly perturbed as to what lay ahead in this alien environment.

In the next two weeks, I experienced a world far from my own. I lived with a Mexican family, ate Mexican food, danced to Mexican music, and, of course, talked to a few Mexican girls. A student of Spanish, the language barrier wasn’t the wall it would have been otherwise, but I did find myself compromising much of my personality for awkward silence when the right words just wouldn’t come.

It was an experience that outweighed Disney Land. It was an experience any student serious about a philosophical world view – I think I stole that from the Simpson mission statement – must undergo. I didn’t go with a school program, but I learned more in those two weeks wandering Juarez than I ever would have in a classroom.

Though I wasn’t away long, I discovered the connection between travel and education. International study, whether it be in a classroom or the streets, is an invaluable experience. All colleges, especially those in the liberal arts, must push their students to leave the safety of their homes in order to learn what books can’t teach them.

In this category, I must say, Simpson does well. With programs such as May Term, which allow students a greater opportunity to get away from the narrow confines of Indianola, students are at great advantage.

Also, teachers and administrators who are willing to mold requirements to allow students to travel are doing a great service. Simpson must be applauded on their work in this educational area.

Of course we must recognize that like most forms of education, it’s not free, and travel abroad can be quite costly. Money is an obvious difficulty. I like how Simpson can provide a travel loan to students who meet grade requirements, but the college needs to consider giving travel scholarship to students other than Cowles scholars.

But, at the same time, if you can pay for a $12,500 semester here, a couple hundred or thousand (depending on how big of a “philosophical world view” you want) is probably still within the scope of things.

But money isn’t the only reason students don’t leave Iowa. There are other reasons as well.

Probably the best reason for someone to stick around is the “I’ll go when I’m older” excuse. Though it’s sound in practice, what this concept ignores is that the future isn’t filled with lounging around the parents’ house. Once you’re out of school, you’re probably going to be working or continuing your classroom education, unless you just love wasting your parents money. To avoid being cliche, these are the times of your life.

Live now my friends.

Money is sacred. If you’re blessed enough to have it, get the most out of it. There’s a big world out there with billions of people who can shape your life in unimaginable ways. But I guess if that doesn’t convince you, remember this.

You’ll be broke and pregnant before you know it.

By the end of my trip I rode through the streets of Mexico in contentment. No longer did I feel like the wealthy gringo bent on a whirlwind adventure. The initial details that shook me were realized to be simple differences worth appreciation. I had survived Mexico without breaking an eighth of the sweat I thought I would.

And best of all, I learned something.