The Importance of Studying Abroad
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The Importance of Studying Abroad

Why I Chose Elon University's France Program

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As an undergraduate student, my educational goal is to master the art of telling a compelling narrative. I want to learn how to communicate effectively with an array of audiences, as what is heard is sometimes different than what is said depending on the ear listening. With social media and technology enabling the world to connect on a global scale so easily, modern society has veered away from cultures segregated by geography and now exists under an umbrella of diversity.

To communicate on a global scale effectively is to have an understanding of intercultural communication. Culture determines how individuals encode messages, whether it may be the literal interpretation of what is being said or the spatial elements that aid in the processing of text in a visual display. With that, there is no such thing as a singular message; think about how advertisements for the same brand or product are marketed differently in different regions across the globe. In marketing, the key questions we are programed to always take into consideration when working on a project are ‘what’s the message’ and ‘how can I make it appealing to this specific market’. Those two questions at its core translate to ‘how do I understand this’ and ‘how can I explain it to someone in this culture’. Different cultures have various values, beliefs, and social norms that all factor into people’s perceptions.

Returning back to my educational goal, perceptions of a narrative will influence what each person takes away from that interaction. Ten years from now, I want to be a lawyer. As a lawyer, I might not be able to 100% prove innocence or guilt, but all I need to do is convince twelve people. A jury is comprised of people from all sorts of backgrounds with different believes, values and social norms. I will need to be able to communicate with them all, at the same time with the same message, and ensure that each diverse individual comprehends what I am saying and elicits the response I want.

As of right now, there is no way I can articulate an opening statement to twelve individuals and spark empathy as each culture holds different values – values I simply am not accustom to. I want to go abroad to France to saturate myself in a new environment and learn about what is held sacred in a new culture.

The France: Eat, Pray, Love trip aims to explain the heart of a country by educating us on what aspects of the French culture are valued most. We will travel from Montpellier to Paris, exposing us to two drastic social scenes. We will explore cathedrals, museums, local hubs, the Jewish Ghetto, and other locations in our attempts to see how intercultural communication has progressed throughout the 21st century and is expressed via gastronomy, art, and music. I am particularly excited to learn about the various interpretations of religion, as my religion (Greek Orthodox) is it’s own interoperation of Catholicism.

On this journey, I hope to achieve a better understanding of humanity. Just from being a student on the Elon campus, I can see the distinctions between the ‘North East kids’ and international students. The way I am greeted by my friends from New York with a simple ‘Sup’ and head nod in passing is drastically different than how my friend from El Salvador greets me with a kiss on the cheek and asks how me and my family is doing – even in a quick passing interaction! This is because in her culture, this standard interaction is considered a social norm while I am used to quick paced hellos. It’s such a small reality check like such that really opened my eyes to how limited my exposure has been to cultures outside of my comfort zone.

If I want to be a good lawyer one day, I need to know how to resonate with an array of people. If the foundation of my claim is a value that some of the jurors don’t see the emphasis of, then I already lost the case before it even began. I need to be able to read the room and tell a diverse narrative pulling from different viewpoints and interpretations of justice so that each person can see my point of view and have empathy.

Empathy was actually the theme of my Core 110: Global Experience class. I honestly felt as if I gained the most out of that class than I have with any other class I have ever taken. I am not exaggerating when I said it changed my life. Dr. Kier was my professor and throughout the whole semester we strived to define empathy and figure out how to bring it out in other people. In this global day and age, a lot of the international conflict is built on the foundation of a lack of mutual interest and shared values; and that goes the same for minor scaled conflicts. Upon a class debate, we were supposed to argue over whether Cyprus should be considered an extension of Turkey or Greece. This topic was particularly close to my heart as I am a Cyprian-Greek and I have family actually dealing with this issue right now. I was randomly assigned to the Turkish side and was forced to do the readings supporting the Turks. I learned very fast how I was exposed to a one-sided story and in that very lesson was the first time I ever acknowledged myself experiencing empathy in a creative problem-solving scenario. That lesson opened my eyes to the power of empathy and how it can be my greatest tool was a future lawyer. However, I would have never been able to experience empathy more or less use it without forcing myself to understand not only a different culture but a culture that contrasted so strongly with one of my beliefs.

In France, I want to expose my own heart to understand a community that is so foreign to me; from that I can only hope to grow as an individual and become a more educated global citizen. This experience in France will be priceless, as the cultural exposure will help me achieve my personal goals of mastering intercultural communication and translating a narrative to a wide audience.

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