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Educational opportunities abroad foster hope and understanding

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As the president of a college that prides itself on high rates of study abroad, I am grateful for those occasional opportunities to visit students at our several semester-long study abroad destinations.

We aim to achieve transformative experiences on and off campus for the young men and women who come our way, and these visits give me firsthand confirmation that what we do in locations all across the world is helping prepare our students to become global citizens.

Given the positive impact I see on Centre College students, I encourage parents of college students in general to be supportive of their sons and daughters who seek to embark on similar experiences at whatever institution they attend. Why?

The world grows ever smaller. Work and service for this current generation will increasingly be conducted on a global stage. These adventurous experiences will prepare young women and men to engage with others despite distance, language and culture in whatever profession they choose, even if they never live or work abroad.

And if your sons and daughters study abroad, what they will likely find is that beyond surface differences, everyone on this planet has more in common than not.

I speak from experience.

My wife, Susie, and I have visited our College's programs around the globe and, when appropriate, visited new and different countries that increasingly are of importance to our nation.

Last year we traveled to Asia, first visiting our students in Shanghai, China, where coursework at Tongji University includes intensive study of Mandarin. We were pleasantly surprised at how easily these young men and women had assimilated into Chinese culture, aided in part by the internship experiences included in the program.

While in this part of the world, Susie and I also stopped to visit Centre students in Japan, where we have an exchange program with Yamaguchi Prefectural University that also brings their students to our campus in Danville. We were humbled by the sense of courtesy and kindness that permeates Japanese culture and encouraged by how firsthand experiences at Japanese temples, for instance, helped students appreciate different religious expressions, primarily Shinto and Buddhist belief.

This March, we found ourselves abroad once again, this time for eight days. We spent the first half in London, England, visiting our 30 students who are studying there, followed by a trip to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam. Both trips were spectacular, albeit very different from each other. While the trip to London was inspiring, it was also comfortable and familiar. The trip to Vietnam, equally inspiring, was uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but in ways that were absolutely positive and life changing.

I repeat that the most important takeaway for us when we travel abroad--just as it is for our students who study abroad in Centre's remarkable programs--is not the striking differences between our nation and those we visit. Rather, being abroad always reminds me of how much alike we are.

London of course has a history and set of traditions quite like those in the U.S. People there, like here, aspire to improve their lot in life, accomplish something of note and see their nation prosper.

Vietnam, which has a history and set of traditions quite unlike ours--and is located half way around the world--is likewise filled with people who aspire to improve their lot in life, accomplish something of note and see their nations prosper.

Susie and I left London and then Vietnam optimistic that our fellow global citizens in these countries can continue to make progress.

I am convinced that this will be achieved by focusing on the positive things that are happening in their nations, capitalizing on their many strengths, working to improve those aspects of their nations that are less than desirable and choosing hope and community over despair and division.

Of course, these are the same prescriptions I offer for our attempts at a more perfect union.

And because all ships rise with the tide, this mutual appreciation for success on a global level--fostered by education opportunities abroad--can only make for a better world in which prosperity flourishes and hope triumphs.

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