Education doesn’t end with a degree and graduation cap. Instead, it begins with life and ends with death. From the moment a baby is born, they are opening their eyes to a new world, learning about their new surroundings, and gaining a new perspective of what it means to be alive. They learn that their cries are tended to, so when they’re hungry, they cry out. They learn to walk so they are able to freely move about, and then they learn language so they are able to vocalize more complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
In the U.S, schooling, often confused with education, begins in kindergarten. Schooling usually takes place in an “academic institution” with similarly aged students who are taught a specific curriculum consisting of math, science, history, and English. From about 5 to 16 years old, students attend school and then make the decision to go to college, which many would then consider the individual “educated”.
What is it about graduating college that prompts the title “educated”? As if there is no more education to be had for the individual who has successfully graduated from an accredited University, only proven by the shiny, gold stamp on a paper more commonly known as a degree. I don’t say this to discredit anyone’s intelligence or hard-earned graduate status, but to mainstream the belief that education is never attained in its highest form, especially without travel.
Education in the classroom provides a very important foundation for learning. However, the crash course in World History is not adequate enough material for a student to understand the world at large. Without any context, subject matters in the classroom become boring with students zoning out and only crash studying when needed. World history lessons don’t stick unless there’s a genuine interest. But there’s a definite way this interest can be peaked in all students–travel.
Traveling allows individuals to understand the abstract concepts taught in the classroom. More than just lecturing on the influence of the Mayan Empire in Mexico and Guatemala, taking a trip to either country allows you to actually see the influence–in the ancient ruins, traditions, and the people. When you can actually see the people, touch the architecture, taste the food, hear the language, and smell the spices, is when you can begin to learn and understand the history of a country.
Learning in the classroom also lacks the diversity the world has to offer. When studying in an academic institution, limited interaction with other cultures can be harmful. Travel is used to forge an understanding between people of different backgrounds. Though there can be distinct differences, there will always be similarities. Travel forces you to learn from the differences, understand why they’re important to a culture, and then to embrace them, all while acknowledging the common ground between you.
According to Business Insider, the number one most important skill to have is communication. Successful people are better at articulating and expressing their ideas, which then allows for successful socialization. Socialization is said to occur inside the classroom, but even successful socialization within the classroom does not compare to the experience of global socialization. Being able to connect to others in a global way is important for personal growth, as well as professional growth.
In the United States, students are expected to choose a major immediately after graduating from high school, without ever having learned about themselves. They spend 12 years learning from the standardized curriculum, but are never given the opportunity to explore their ability to be self sufficient, develop new skills through real-life problem solving, or explore global interests. When an individual removes themselves from the only environments they’ve ever known, they open themselves to new perspectives and possibilities, which can potentially reveal new passions. These passions are what drives a person to succeed, and therefore someone who has traveled will have a better idea of what they hope to achieve career-wise, than someone who hasn’t.
Although there are many benefits to traveling abroad, the U.S still lags the rest of the Western world when it comes to international travel. With reality shows such as “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives of…”, international travel is marketed as a luxury afforded only to the rich. Add that to the amount of debt accrued in student loans and credit cards, and you’ll find that Americans aren’t even taking their vacation days from work!
The U.S needs to catch up with the rest of the developed world in understanding how important travel is in terms of education and development. If more high school graduates committed to a gap-year instead of rushing into four-years of loans and a potentially regretful choice in major, then maybe we will truly become who we’re meant to be, and not who we are molded into.