Studying abroad is a privilege, not a right

Lyndsay Monsen, Head Copy Editor

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With the great Luther tradition of J-term study abroad trips around the corner, I feel the need to reiterate this fact: studying abroad is a privilege, not a right.

I also feel the need to preface this piece with the fact that I have had two amazing study abroad experiences — I spent the spring 2017 semester in the Netherlands through the Emerson College Kasteel Well program and went on Associate Professor of Biology Mark Eichinger and Adjunct Faculty in Health and Physical Education Jeff Boeke’s Science 140: Environmental Implications of Eco-Tourism in Belize J-term trip in 2018. These two experiences expanded my mind and gave me a breadth of knowledge that I am so thankful for. I would not be the same person I am today without them. I also will be going to South Africa this upcoming J-term for Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History Richard Mtisi and Professor of English Martin Klammer’s Paideia 450: Removal and Restitution: Building Sustainable Communities class, and I’m sure that experience will be just as powerful as the last two. Studying abroad is something I’m valuing the most about my time in college.

With that being said, I recognize that I am incredibly privileged to have these experiences. I do not deny for a moment that I am at an advantage due to my family’s socioeconomic status, a position that some Luther students are not in. I know it’s very uncomfortable for people to recognize their privilege — it’s uncomfortable for me to just write these words — but it is far more important than it is uncomfortable.

If we do not recognize our privilege, we become ignorant. This is true for things beyond studying abroad, but with studying abroad specifically, I think ignorance jumps out when we assume that studying abroad is a right, or something that everyone does in their college career. As far as I’m aware, aside from language majors, there is no requirement at Luther for students to study abroad. Simply put: not everyone does it. Not everyone has to do it. And not everyone can do it.

“As far as I’m aware, aside from language majors, there is no requirement at Luther for students to study abroad. Simply put: not everyone does it. Not everyone has to do it. And not everyone can do it.”

– Lyndsay Monsen (‘19)

I have seen far too many students shame others for not studying abroad, questioning their life choices due to the fact. While this piece is largely focusing on the economic privilege that comes with studying abroad, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that many students do not study abroad due to disability, illness, their academic schedules, or just plain not wanting to.

I know this is the inner copy editor in me jumping out, but I think it’s incredibly problematic when we refer to studying abroad as a noun instead of a verb. (Think: “I’m going on my semester abroad” versus “I’m studying abroad.”) When we posit studying abroad as a noun, we again perpetuate the idea that this is something everyone is able to do. I see countless Instagrams of students talking about their “abroad,” and hear people refer to it in this way in conversation. Think about how someone who is completely removed from the culture of college in 2018 would react to this terminology: what the hell is “your abroad”?

This might come as a culture shock (pun absolutely intended) to some, but you are not entitled to a study abroad experience.

And, as students who do have the privilege and ability to study abroad, I think we also inherit a responsibility to talk about it in a conscious manner the second we register for the course. Do not assume that it’s an experience everyone else will also have. That would be like saying “my summer lifeguarding,” as if a summer of lifeguarding experience is something that everyone else also shares and understands.

So, please, when you post that seemingly obligatory (even though it’s definitely not obligatory at all) Facebook post on January 6, 2019, think about what you’re saying, both through your words and through your actions. Think about how many students would love to be in your shoes but cannot. Think about just how privileged you are to be able to type those words.

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