Oct. 22, 2007

Study abroad boosts view of global interdependence and environmentalism, students report

Any person, any study ... any country. That was the theme of the Varied Voices -- Study Abroad: International Outreach presentation to the Cornell Board of Trustees, Oct. 19 in Statler Hall.

Moderated by trustee Elizabeth D. Moore, ILR '75, the panel of five study-abroad veterans spoke of their experiences in other countries and cultures and how their studies abroad influenced how they thought about diversity and global issues back home at Cornell.

Shriya Palekar, A&S '08, who spent a semester at the London School of Economics, for example, talked about creating sustainable relationships with other countries.

"We need to take a different line in how we approach the world by sharing our privileges through economic development, rather than politics," she said, stressing the importance of economic collaboration rather than competition with other nations.

Mark Thompson, Hotel '08, also emphasized the importance of economic development in international relations, something he learned studying in Hong Kong. "We are all in this together," he said, referring to the interdependent nature of economies around the world.

During his study abroad in Paris, Nicholas Flanders, A&S '08, said he grew to appreciate the pace of European life, which is slower and more observant than in the United States. He described the important difference between learning and living: "It is one thing to see a picture of Notre Dame, and another to run your fingers along its rough, gray walls." Flanders described Cornell's essential role as an "initiator, facilitator and mechanism for continuing experience abroad."

Hee Jung Choi, A&S '08, also talked about her appreciation of European culture, especially its holistic and individually focused attitude toward health care, which she hopes to support in her study of medicine. Choi also commented that her experience abroad has helped her to better organize her studies at Cornell. "Life is not about studying for an orgo [organic chemistry] prelim at 4 a.m.," she laughed. "It's important to take a step back and prioritize."

Stephanie Posen, A&S '08, said that studying in Paris led to her increased awareness of global politics, something she had not given much thought to prior to her international experience. Being in Paris during the French presidential elections, she said she was struck by the importance of such issues as environmentalism on a global scale. She also spoke about the excitement of meeting Cornell alumni from different countries, highlighting Cornell's influence not only as a respected institution of higher learning, but also as a common ground for engaged, motivated people across the world.

During the question-and-answer session, the students addressed whether study abroad should be mandatory for Cornellians. The panel agreed it should remain voluntary. Thompson observed that a large percentage of Cornell's students are international already, so they should not be required to leave again when they wish to study in the United States. Palekar agreed, adding that part of the value of study abroad may be lost if it became required, since that value lies in the personal desire to travel and experience other nations and cultures.

Celia Smith '09 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.