To the Discouraged: Studying Abroad Will Change Your Life

Studying abroad is a major decision in the life of a student.

Once we have committed to reading the information about a particular program, we begin to well up with questions and concerns. How am I going to pay for this? Is it safe? Will my parents approve?

These questions make finishing the pamphlet or web page seem suddenly less attractive. As a result, many students in high school and college completely miss out on an incredible opportunity to network and expand their professional, social, and cultural horizons.

I have had the opportunity over the last year to take two separate study abroad trips to Europe. The first journey took me to Paris for two weeks to witness and participate in the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 21). The other was to Germany with Cultural Vistas through its STEM LAUNCH program, which is generously funded by The Halle Foundation.

Kaylon Paterson of Morehouse College reflects on his experience studying abroad through the STEM LAUNCH study tour.

Being a STEM student, it may seem almost impossible to study abroad, especially if your school has rigorous graduation criteria. But I assure you that what you gain by taking the time to travel will benefit your education tenfold.

STEM LAUNCH: Morehouse and Spelman Students Go to Germany

On May 16th, 2016, the STEM LAUNCH fellows, a combination of students from Morehouse College and Spelman College, departed for Munich, Germany. At first, none of us truly knew what to expect yet this did not deter our excitement. For some, this would be their first trip abroad. For others like myself, it would be an opportunity to build a greater network and learn about a new culture.

Coming from an international background, I have always valued travel opportunities for their historic and cultural exposure. Only in recent years have I begun to understand the significance of networking when in a new place. Though a short and eventful trip, we were given the opportunity to meet with schools and companies looking for young scholars to take German innovation to the next level. There were opportunities for research, business, and academic advancement that we never imagined. Many who had left the United States with the fear of living in another country returned with the mindset of international scholars: ready to uproot their lives in the name of academic and professional advancement.

Kaylon visiting Ecologic during the STEM LAUNCH study tour.

For two weeks, we were bombarded by a new culture, stretching from Munich to Berlin. We were able to experience a new language and people while being exposed to new career paths and research projects. For many of us on the trip (true nerds and future academics), this exposure had us in a frenzy. We were trying to learn German as quickly as possible and using our knowledge every chance we were given, to drill our host organizations with questions about their work. This excitement, however, was no match for jet lag; we would find ourselves fighting sleep in order to pay attention.

What we had gained by the end of our journey was the knowledge that we were no longer limited to one country to work. There are equal and greater opportunities in the rest of the world waiting for skilled and ambitious people to take up. What may be a competitive and saturated field in the United States may turn out to have a deficit of workers in another country. Our brief exposure to some of these companies through this program was enough to open up some of these opportunities to us as students.

STEM LAUNCH, as well as many other Cultural Vistas exchange programs, is designed to holistically expose students to their passions while exploring entirely new regions and cultures. My experience with the program has inspired me to continue to look for opportunities no matter where they take me. I look forward to continuing to work with Cultural Vistas with the hope of becoming a fellow in another one of their programs soon.

I implore anyone seeking change, chance, and exploration to take the challenge and travel with any of the Cultural Vistas programs. You will not be disappointed.

Learn more about the STEM LAUNCH study tour.