Impact of International Travel On Teens and Twenty-Somethings’ Career Paths

Get out and see the world: Why it can be a good idea for teens and twenty-somethings before jumping into the workforce.

The irony of traveling in foreign countries, especially when studying abroad or volunteering, is that you learn a great deal about yourself. Beyond self-reliance and how to get yourself around, my own personal experience has been it helps bring you closer to figuring out your purpose in life and what issues in the world matter most to you.

Some tough questions: Is your job or the degree you’re earning in college, right for you? How many of us later in life are NOT working in our field (on purpose)? How many of us would’ve liked to figure out earlier we wanted to do something else? If you want to be a doctor or nurse, maybe it would be a good idea to volunteer for a medical nongovernmental organization, see if medicine is where it’s at for you, or if you chose the profession for other reasons. And this goes for countless other professions as well, since humanitarian work covers pretty much every aspect and need of life.

While volunteering, you might just discover your niche. You might discover the topic of your thesis or develop special skillsets that boost your resume over other applicants. Immersed in a language, you might just become fluent.

Volunteering or studying abroad is thought, in general, to enrich understanding of other cultures and promote greater acceptance of people who dress or talk differently. Recent studies show study abroad programs having a huge impact on people—in particular, for those going somewhere in the developing world.  Many maintain a long-term interest in the places they visit and the cultures where they have made friends, and go on to invest time and effort in development programs or become social entrepreneurs.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, says in his book, Half the Sky, that if you really want to help….”to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it—and it’s impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it firsthand, even live in its midst.” (pg. 88) He goes on to say that he believes one of greatest failings of the American education system is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. He is of the opinion universities should require graduates spend some time in the developing world by taking a gap year or study abroad.

What do you think? Should taking a gap year or study abroad in a developing country be a university requirement? (Personally, I would’ve jumped for joy to be ‘required’ to do that.)


10 comments on “Impact of International Travel On Teens and Twenty-Somethings’ Career Paths

  1. I don’t think a gap year should be a requirement but it should be an opportunity and choice provided by universities that maybe gives you some credits towards graduation and certainly does not hinder your college progress.

    It is funny you mention understanding (or simply witnessing) poverty at home or abroad. In most instances there is a night and day difference in what is considered “poverty” at home in our country and what is poverty outside of the US. I think that every mom and dad should somehow expose there kids to the third world sometime during their early teenage years in hopes they would acquire a true perspective on how fortunate and blessed we are as Americans and maybe plant a seed deep in that child that may produce fruit sometime later in life–or at least an appreciation for how much we have. Maybe one of these teenagers will be one who will truly make a difference in a country that is truly stricken by true poverty…

    • Love the idea of planting a seed. Travel helps open a child’s eyes to such different cultures and hopefully gives them a feeling of connection. You’re right; they may be the ones who later really make an impact.

  2. I would love to see university programs require study abroad – or at least service of some sort; even if it is domestic. For so many of our youth in the U.S., this would be a life altering experience, and much needed to gain a true global perspective. Let’s put it this way: I have yet to hear anyone say a trip abroad or service did not affect them or change at least their perspective.

  3. I love the idea of a university based program to understand poverty. They could actually incorporate spending time in the US experiencing poverty and then offer the option to go to another country. Everyone may not have the financial means to travel abroad. A goal of the program should be to establish is a greater understanding of the economic and social issues that we face in the US and in the world. In my travels abroad, I have not sought out the experience of witnessing poverty but I have experienced it first hand in the US through my work and volunteer activities. As a result, I think I have a better understanding of what is happening outside my community and have an idea of little things I can do as an individual to help.

  4. I’d definitely advocate for domestic as well as international trips to understand poverty. Each offers different facets/views and learning experiences. I agree it can be expensive. But when volunteering for an organization, the expenses can be less and there are the perks that you often see the culture from a closer perspective than as a tourist.

  5. I absolutely believe that more high school grads should go on a gap year experience. In addition to humbly experiencing another culture, it allows students a valuable decompression from the over-the-top activity levels and artificial performance goals of most high school experiences.

    When I have spoken with parents about gap year experiences, their biggest concern is that their son/daughter would “move away” from academia too much and would choose to not go to school. Are there statistics to share with parents about the percentage who go on to college?

    I would think also that a student with a gap-year experience would be more focused upon beginning classes and would indeed get more from their collegiate life. Besides, many college students end up taking five years to complete a bachelors’ degree anyway because they change their major or need to recover credit hours & GPA from a “lost” freshman year.

    • Hi Sharon,

      I will do a little checking and see if I can find some stats for kids doing a gap year and then going on to college. (If anyone else out there knows of a good site, feel free to chime in!) Please give me a few days. Right now, I’m very excited to be writing a post for A21 Carolinas about the SC House of Reps passing the Anti-Trafficking Bill! Now it’s headed for the Senate. Yay!

      • Hi Sharon,
        I sent you an article link from the Wall Street Journal on Gap year stats via Twitter. Hope it’s useful. Also, the link in my above post highlighted as “recent studies show…” provides some interesting stats on students’ mindset/worldview after doing a study abroad.


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