The famously beautiful Indiana University campus, where I have been teaching a summer course for the new School of Global and International Studies, is now almost deserted. Most of its students, like their counterparts across the northern developed world, are taking these next months to flee to the four corners of the country, and the world. They may work, hold internships, participate in exchange programs, or visit family; but, as often as not, they are traveling for the sheer joy of it.
Those students going abroad this summer for no reason other than the thrill of seeing and living life in other places should not feel guilty about it. Even if it means chalking up more debt or missing summer course credits. They are bound to have formative experiences that will do more for their education, and life choices, than almost anything else they could do.
Conscientious universities everywhere, well aware of how fast the world is changing, are now working hard to find better ways to educate their students to become responsible global citizens. They are trying to internationalize their curricula to ensure that no one graduates without some serious knowledge about other countries and cultures, and some sense of global interconnectedness and interdependence. They are trying to ensure that domestic students share their study and social time with the international students living among them. And they are trying to give as many of their students as possible the opportunity to study and travel abroad.
I suspect that what matters most of all in shaping young people’s life choices and values will be the opportunity not just to study the world, but also to spend time physically exploring it. The experiences – good, bad, and ugly – that they are bound to have along the way will quite likely be life-changing. That was certainly the case for me.
My first-ever trip outside my native Australia was to Japan in the mid-1960s, getting there – before the days of cheap air travel – with a student group in the hold of a cargo ship. I will never forget what I saw in Hiroshima, at the epicenter of the 1945 atomic bomb blast. On a granite block, part of the front of an office building, was the shadow of a human being, indelibly etched there by the crystallization of the surrounding rock as he or she was, in an instant, incinerated.