Among all the articles I shared on my Facebook page last week, one of them received substantially more attention than the rest from my network. This post reached three times more audience than the “least popular” update of the week. So, what was this popular article about?

It was a post published by Jordan Bishop on Forbes’ website, entitled “Science Says Travel Makes You Smarter.” In his discussion, Bishop summarized a few research studies and concluded “travel may actually make us smarter.”

When I first read his discussion, I thought, “This seems like an interesting topic. Let me share it and see what people in my network think.” I guess I had made the right decision if my goal was to get people’s attention.

Yet, after I put more thought into the topic, I began to wonder why we need anyone to tell us (or to confirm for us) that travel is good for us. Let’s see what Bishop summarized for us from three different studies:

Travel makes us smarter, but how?

  • A person’s multicultural engagement — as measured in the extent to which this person adapts to and learns about new cultures is positively related to the person’s integrative complexity, meaning s/he would find it easier to hold multiple but conflicting viewpoints in mind when facing an issue. Furthermore, higher multicultural engagement will lead to higher number of offers a student gets at the end of school. (The sample of this study was a group of international MBA students).
  • Students who traveled abroad and were adapted to the foreign countries are more creative and better at solving problems than those who did not.
  • In another experiment, students were split into two groups and presented with the same task. One was told the task was created by “students studying abroad in Greece” and the other one was created by “local students in Indiana.” The group that was told they were students studying abroad in Greece turned out to be more creative even without physically traveling to the foreign country.

To a large extent, the summary presented above provides some good evidence to support that studying abroad is good for students. Yet, I have to say …

Studying abroad is different from traveling abroad

Studying abroad usually involves active and intensive learning activities during the time when a student lives overseas. Students can usually earn credits, a certificate or a degree from a study-abroad program.

Traveling abroad, however, does not necessarily involve any active or intensive learning activities, and it is usually less structured. Based on my observations as an academic advisor, I can name a few benefits from a good study-abroad program without referring to any empirical studies.

Benefits of studying abroad:

  • It allows students to experience a whole new world that is different from their comfort zone.
  • Students will become more appreciative for a diverse culture.
  • Students can develop better real-life problem-solving skills as they live in a foreign environment.
  • Students will make lifelong friends.
  • Students can possibly learn a different language.
  • A study-abroad program can broaden a student’s career opportunities.

Benefits of traveling abroad:

As a traveler myself, I am going to list some benefits here on top of my head, also without referring to any academic studies:

  • Travelers will develop skills in project management and event planning as they arrange the logistics of a trip.
  • Travelers will become more creative in solving unexpected problems in a trip.
  • Travelers can develop better problem-solving skills during a trip.
  • Travelers will learn how to better manage a budget and allocate funds to various activities, which can be applied to other life or work-related events in the future.
  • Travelers will appreciate a diverse culture (same as studying abroad).
  • Travelers can meet new friends in a trip and develop better interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Travelers will show a deeper appreciation for globalization, sustainability and other social issues.
  • Travelers can become more confident and feel more comfortable when meeting strangers.
  • Travelers can learn something new, such as a new perspective or a new culture.
  • Travelers can find joy and fulfillment in a trip.
  • Travelers can get to know themselves better from a trip — and their friends, too, if they travel with friends.
  • Travelers often treasure life and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

This list can go on and on. As a matter of fact, I am positive that anyone who reads this discussion can add more to the list. If so, please leave us a comment.

Now, back to the question I raised earlier: Do we need scientists to tell us, or to confirm for us, that travel is good? My answer is no.

I would rather see scientists producing more breakthrough research that helps us discover new knowledge, which a good university professor is supposed to do. What is your answer?



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