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Going Abroad: Can You Afford to Follow Your Bliss?

By Culturalecology Subscribe to RSS | December 12th 2011 | Views:
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In 1988, wearing a High School letterman jacket one size too large and braces minus the wire that I habitually removed, I entered Lewis and Clark College. Carl Sagan's Cosmos yet ruled the universe and Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth was the preferred stocking stuffer for many a Lewis and Clark freshman. Two of the most potent myths that Campbell propagated were: 1) there really is such a thing as a "good day to die" for many indigenous cultures; 2) when making life decisions the greatest advice is to "follow your bliss."

My undergraduate advisor echoed Campbell. “Take the courses you like,” he advised, “and major in the subject that you are best at.” I chose philosophy as a major and to make it even less palatable to future employers I chose religious studies as my minor. With the decline in the economy, the rise in college tuitions, and double digit unemployment rates awaiting new graduates, some pundits are calling college an outright "scam." A Salon.com article all but summed it up: "Is it time to kill the Liberal Arts degree?" The age-old proverb that philosophy bakes no bread has new chefs in the kitchen.

As going abroad is intrinsic to the liberal arts mission, its value is under siege. At Lewis and Clark, 85% of the student body study abroad Indeed, this was our spirit quest: Joseph Campbell's "liminal experience." And those that did not study abroad chose to volunteer abroad or intern abroad. But, with USA Today reporting that student loan debt will soon exceed 1 trillion dollars, surpassing even credit card debt, some talking suits have suggested that going abroad is a bet on your bottom dollar (or the Chinese yuan should the government assume your debt).

According to Troy Peden, President of GoAbroad.com, "study abroad has remained steady, but intern abroad and volunteer abroad is going crazy! Through the roof." As the Director of an intern abroad company, I too have watched the numbers increase exponentially. The economy has spoken and students have answered. If they are forced to bake bread, then by-God they are going to do it in foreign ovens.

Study abroad is something of a hedge fund for students. It allows them to follow their bliss while at the same time generating a resume-worthy experience. The main difference is their ROI may very well be the realization that life is a journey, not an investment. So, from a philosophy graduate to the men who have never left the kitchen, keep on baking: my backpack is full of your goodies.

Anna Lindjem, a former student of mine, had this to say following a marine internships course: "I'm not so interested in how a cell works anymore. I'd like to know how all things work together, like reef ecology and how humans affect their environment. I'm into the bigger picture now. I will be doing more marine internships in the future.” Seeing the big picture is not mere self-exploration: it is good business. Many of the so-called “practical degrees” such as accounting and graphic design are heading to the equator. The survivors in an outsourced world will be those who can think out of the box, see the forest from the trees or the reef from the cell as the case may be.

The evidence is no further than the palm of your hand. The latest juggernaut of Apple products were not based on pure technology, but a vision. Steve Jobs credits his travels to Asia and immersion into mystical religions for his perception of the human/technology interface. His ability to see the moon in a dewdrop and the synergy between the simple and the complex ushered us into a new world.

At this very moment, the next game changer may be sleeping under the stars with Bantu tribesmen or spinning cotton with Nepali factory workers. In the vast reaches between what we know and what we experience, inspiration is born. The kitchen will always have its bakers. I say follow your bliss.

Culturalecology - About Author:
Dr. David Adams is a cultural anthropologist who founded the Institute for Cultural Ecology in 1999. He is the author of Samsara and Season of the Loon, both available at Amazon.com. The Institute is an study abroad provider company that specializes in ecotourism internships and reef internships. To learn more about the hundreds of intern abroad and study abroad options in more than seventeen countries see www.cultural-ecology.com

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