By Bailey Anderson, 2015-16 Killam Fellow, University of Texas – Austin to Memorial University of Newfoundland
International education has been an important aspect of my life since, as an insecure 16 year old, I decided to go to Argentina for a year as a Rotary Youth Ambassador. My experience there taught me more about myself, the world, and my own background than any amount of time in my small home town could have. It taught me to search for the value in every experience and every person and that fear of failure is one of the worst reasons to let life slip you by.
Since I completed my Rotary Exchange in 2013 I have been involved with international education in a number of ways, including volunteering as a counselor for rotary students, working in the University of Texas’s International Office, and of course studying abroad. In addition to my initial Rotary exchange I have studied in Panama and now in Newfoundland as a Killam Fellow. I have spoken with people whose experiences abroad were as good as or better than they imagined, and people who have described them as some of the most challenging times of their lives. Regardless, time after time, the common theme in their stories is one of enlightenment.
An international education, be it in a country as close to home as Canada or as distant as China, forces a person to be flexible in their understanding of the world. It causes one to recognize differences in beliefs and cultural norms for what they are. Not better or worse in their own right, just different manifestations and understandings of globally similar needs and desires.
International education provides a platform for growth. It pushes a person to explore and adapt, to integrate into a structure that is in many ways unlike their prior experiences and emerge from it as a more dynamic being. But perhaps the most incredible aspect of international education is that it shows us how similar we are as humans. It goes beyond images of politics and protest that so often fill the news. It breeds understanding and tolerance, and mends rifts between cultures.
My life has been shaped by my experiences with international education, specifically by the people I have met and the seemingly strange—yes, even in Canada—and challenging situations I have encountered. I don’t know where I would be now or where I would be headed if I hadn’t made the initial decision at 16 to go abroad, but I am beyond thankful that I did. There is a saying among Rotary Exchange Students (adapted from a quote by Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammer) that if everyone in the world had the opportunity to study internationally when they are young, there would be no more war. At the very least, I believe that it would create a generation of perpetually curious and tolerant people.