It is well established that studying abroad is good for personal experience. For example, Clara S and Muugi T (2014) explains seven reasons why studying abroad is good for personal gain. If you look at some of those reasons it can also be good for the global intercultural development. It helps to get a global network, change the way you think, develop an international work place and develop new language skills; all personal benefits but also (inter)national benefits. Countries and intergovernmental organisations support students to study abroad with programs such as European Union’s Erasmus programme. Being in an intercultural education myself, I was fascinated by the question If the reasons mentioned by Clara and Muugi are substantiated by research. While searching the literature, surprisingly, there appeared not much proof to be found on the global benefits of studying abroad. Such proof might motivate students even more to go abroad, especially if it is also about their personal gain.
What I want to go into in this blog is that it is not just beneficial for a student to go abroad it is also a in national or international interest for students to study abroad. Some of the personal benefits can also be national or corporate benefits. An example is intercultural development, if more people of a country have intercultural competence, it makes it easier to do business with other countries helping with economic growth but also on a bigger scale. It enables to do business with other countries. Also, the work environment is getting more culturally diverse so, more people having experience with other cultures can help businesses gaining good international employees.
Not just for economic reasons is intercultural competence important. Farmer M. (2016) wrote that worldwide international competence is necessary to address global challenges such as climate change, transnational terrorism and refugees. Studying abroad can be a big part of global intercultural development. For example, the Netherlands is good with water infrastructure and protection because of the Netherlands always had to adapt to the water around it. Knowing this can help if a country has issues with water, it knows where to ask for support. Moreover, if the person in charge has studied in the Netherlands, this person would know the cultural work aspects of Dutch people this makes sure that the business does goes smoothly.
Intercultural competence depends on sensitivity for other cultures. Erin Meyer (2014), in Navigating the cultural minefield, gives a number of practical cases where people from different countries misunderstand each other with potentially grave consequences. One of the examples he made was that when working in a different country sometimes there are great misunderstanding is oversimplification of stereotypes. An example Erin Meyer mentioned was, that French people usually are very indirect in their feedback and when a French person is suddenly criticising work performance very directly it will come to a surprise.
When I was working in a hotel in Malta with employees from multiple different nationalities I was very surprised that when the French employees spoke much better English than the German employees. I always had the stereotype that French people’s English speaking skills where either poor or non-excitant.
One other example of culture navigating between cultures can be read in the blog, THAI UNIVERSITY V.S. DUTCH UNIVERSITY of Hassick T. (2017) it can be of help giving by an idea experiencing cultural differences by telling his own experience and explaining differences between a Dutch and a Thai university. Personally, I have been abroad twice ones for study and ones on an internship. The internship was full of cultural diversity with over 10 different nationalities. This was challenging because the cultural differences where very noticeable. One large difference was in the fact that one culture works harder than the other.
These examples show that sensitivity for other cultures can be learned from textbooks and trainings, which raises the question if it also can be learned from studying abroad and working in intercultural student teams.
So, creating intercultural competence is important for countries and even though there is a lot to read about other countries these days it is still not good enough just to read. The picture above is quote of Aldous Huxley. This shows that information obtained in the own country can be bias or inaccurate.
Studying abroad is also thought to be crucial for international organisations like the EU and ASEAN. While ASEAN is not so far yet, there are plans to create a free exchange of students throughout ASEAN. The EU however, has been exchanging students for years with help of the Erasmus scholarship. The European parliament and council (2013) made regulations containing the objectives of the Erasmus+ program. This shows why Europe thinks study abroad is important and why they are promoting it, which is a whole number of things. Those objectives state that studying abroad can have as result that it improves the sustainable development of higher education from partner countries, it creates opportunities for a more cohesive society, international cooperation to improve quality and innovation of education and training institutions, promote and develop unions linguistic diversity and intercultural awareness and improving intercultural development both global and regional, while creating better ties with the countries involved.
For students from ASEAN countries it is more difficult to study abroad. It is either necessary to have private funding or a scholarship. Scholarships positions (a website created by oxford university for helping international students find a suitable scholarship to study abroad), writes that since 2015 the EU funded a program that helped ASEAN reach their vision on higher education. This program will be active till 2019. In each semester 125 scholarships will be funded to ASEAN and 50 from ASEAN to Europe. This is great for intercultural development between ASEAN and Europe. However, more regional student mobility is not yet in place. In 2015, the Kuala Lumpur declaration on higher education proposed a plan for 2016 till 2020 creating student mobility within ASEAN. This program will be inspired by the Erasmus program of the European Union.
Such policies do not come from nowhere. In a 2011 OECD conference about social cohesion, politicians, UN officials and scientists agreed that social cohesion is essential for democratic societies and peace. At the same time, it appears to be difficult to measures these effects (see this film on Youtube)
For unifying the nations of international organisations, intercultural competence is necessary and student mobility is a good way for achieving that goal.
It appears that there is a wide belief that international scholar exchange is good for students as well as business and societies. All kinds of practical examples show what might go wrong when people are not sensitive for other cultures. It is important as international collaboration is important for the economy, for social cohesion and ultimately for political stability. Inter-governmental organizations like the EU and ASEAN therefore actively promote student exchange. However, even if intuitively this is a rational policy, little scientific research seems to have been done to measure the actual effects on the economy or stability. So, if someone goes to study abroad it is not just beneficial for the individual but also for the world.