Last year, Time published an opinion piece titled, “How Studying or Working Abroad Makes You Smarter.” As someone who has studied overseas, I was intrigued. After all, I remember feeling like a bewildered child during many of my days studying Chinese. When I asked the taxi driver to go to the university, why did I end up at the hospital? Why was it that every time someone complimented me on my language skills, I couldn’t understand the very next sentence? And why did the hairdresser completely ignore my carefully translated explanation for how I wanted my hair cut?
Learning from these experiences, however, was exactly what the article describes. Several studies show that students who are open to and experience multicultural engagement become better at solving problems and thinking creatively. They learn new ways of doing tasks and become flexible thinkers who can make connections between unrelated ideas.
Of course, not all of our students can spend time studying or working in a foreign country, so how can we bring some of that experience to them right here at home? One way is through the growth of our international student program.
As international students continue to join the student body at LCS, all of our students benefit. Students learn that culture often impacts how we solve a problem, experience perspectives on history and current events that are different from their own, and have opportunities to share their faith in new ways.
During Chinese New Year in February, three sophomore students from China shared their holiday customs and other elements of their culture with the sixth grade history classes. They brought pictures of their hometowns, taught the younger students Chinese phrases, and described the meals and activities of their New Year celebrations. When asked what was learned from the lessons, the sixth graders responded, “I can count to ten on one hand,” and “I can say hello. Ni hao.” One said, “The Chinese students are so friendly to us!”
I think, though, that the learning goes deeper than just understanding interesting facts about a holiday or learning a few words in another language. By engaging in discussion and interacting with people from around the world, our American students move to a more global perspective on world events and begin to think critically and creatively about our responses to those events. They think about how God loves all people and how His church grows across the nations. They become “smarter” in their view of the world!
Miss Kala Walls serves LCS as a 6th grade Social Studies teacher, and as the International Student Program Coordinator. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.