Mindful Study Abroad 3

Pausing at the Threshold

I can think of no other educational opportunity more inherently powerful than study abroad.

When students take that leap to travel, they expect nothing less than a life-enhancing transformation. It's a tall order, but not one educators or administrators need feel anxious about meeting. Given the nature of such threshold experiences and the new worlds they lead into, students are practically bound for growth.

Thresholds constitute a passageway leading from lived experience to new opportunity. It's appropriate that in scientific terms they also mark the upper limits or conditions needed for an entirely new reaction to occur. In other words, we aren't meant to merely skip over the symbolic boards of our thresholds, but to better think of them as markers at the margins of sure change.

Inviting students to pause at the threshold helps them to open their eyes and awareness to the transformations awaiting them. Any number of things can be done while embarking, transiting, and disembarking into new worlds. But one of the most valuable activities is to guide students in opening up their senses and reducing the meddling of memory.


The rooms we exit have a powerful effect on the new spaces we enter into. When we cross the thresholds of study abroad, we take with us all the memories of what structured the comfort and security of our past. While those memories are useful to predicting and navigating what comes next, they often exert almost a tyrannical control over the beautiful and stimulating discoveries environments wish us to find. Anxiety, insecurity, distraction, fear, and confusion all fuel the authoritative impulse to clamp down on difference and rush back to the safety of memory's dictates.

Pausing at the threshold with simple journaling gives students the time they need to acknowledge where they stand physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, to assess calmly and confidently where they are coming from, where they are going, and what they expect their challenges and breakthroughs will be. Following up with the a Full Sense exercise assists in further loosening the grip of memory and encourages more open awareness and greater acceptance of difference.

In this exercise, students are invited to focus on and describe briefly but vividly six specific experiences tied to touch, sight, smell, hearing, taste and feeling. As dull and deafening as a Full Sense exercise on a trans-pacific flight sounds, it's amazing how a moment of focused attention can generate new interest in the curiously tough, thick weave of coach upholstery. Practiced daily, this exercise quickly forms intense, pleasurable memories that enrich our past and tempers its meddling in the present.

As educators focused on enhancing students' personal sensitivities and sensibilities to new environments, we are helping to ensure that the value of study abroad and its positive impact dwarf its apparent costs.

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