Study Abroad Because…My Thoughts After the White House Travel Blogger Summit

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Study abroad because it kills prejudice, encourages peace and expands opportunities. That was the essence of the messages shared by such leaders as Chief of Staff Denis McDonough at the White House Summit on Global Citizenship and Study Abroad. I was lucky enough to be invited to this event in Washington D.C. as one of the 100 most influential travel bloggers and digital media outlets. I will write another post all about the wonders of taking part in this summit (like meeting the Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown and touring the White House holiday decorations). But first I want to share with you why I so strongly believe in study abroad and foreign travel.

Study abroad because it gets you out of your comfort zone...and on top of the Pont du Gard ancient Roman aquaduct in Gard, France

Study abroad because it gets you out of your comfort zone! (That’s me on the left with an American friend on top of the Pont du Gard ancient Roman aqueduct in Gard, France in 1994)

Study abroad because it kills prejudice

As a child I loved Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I read that book several times as a tween and teen, both for school and for personal reasons. Like millions of other readers, I fell in love with Anne. And I hated Nazis. I could not understand how a country could wreak such terror on so many millions of people.

Therefore, I thought of all Germans as bad, ironically adopting an attitude of prejudice toward an entire nation of people. Then I went to Germany at age 15 with my family during my first trip out of North America. I would observe elderly German people on the train, wondering if they had been Nazis during the war. They would smile at me and try to help my family navigate paper maps on street corners. One tiny older woman with silver hair and an armload of groceries even offered to do our family’s laundry at her house. We thanked her but refused to burden her with such a task. I could no longer lump a country of people into a category of evil. We must never forget what happened during World War II, but experiencing a culture in real life dissolves prejudices. I learned that the leaders of a country do not represent its populace as a whole.

I visited Anne Frank's secret annex in Amsterdam, the Netherlands during the summer after my year abroad, which made Anne's story more tangible

I visited Anne Frank’s secret annex in Amsterdam during the summer after my year abroad, which made Anne’s story more tangible

Study abroad because it encourages peace

I saw firsthand how people in other countries, while different and intriguing, truly are more similar to people from my homeland than we are dissimilar. We all coo at babies in strollers and smile at compliments and appreciate when someone makes a gesture of kindness, like holding open a door. It’s much easier to divide the world into enemies when people seem like distant caricatures instead of breathing, smiling, crying, souls struggling to find their way in the world, just like me.

Standing in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall in 1995, just six years after it fell

Standing in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany after my year abroad in 1995, just six years after the wall was brought down

Study abroad because it transforms your life

After hosting a French foreign exchange student at my family’s home in Arizona when I was in high school, I spent a month with her family in Normandy the following summer. With my limited understanding of French, it was one of the loneliest and most difficult experiences of my life. It was also one of the most rewarding and transformative, for reasons I explain here.

During my winter break from school, I revisited my foreign exchange host family in Normandy - Here I am with my host sister, Claire

During my winter break from my junior year abroad, I revisited my foreign exchange host family in Normandy – Here I am with my host sister, Claire

Study abroad because it widens your world view

This life-changing experience of living with another family in Normandy led me to study for one year in Southern France during college. It was frustrating and embarrassing for this perfectionist to fumble to learn a language so beloved by its countrymen. I often felt isolated living so far from my family, friends and the security of knowing how to behave properly in public. But it was also the most incredible time of my life. I traveled to nearly 20 countries during school breaks and in the summer that followed. I made friends from around the world, with many of whom I still keep in contact today. I learned about European history in a tangible, memorable way not possible through text books and lectures alone.

I realized a lifelong dream of visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy during my year abroad

I realized a lifelong dream of visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy during my year abroad

Study abroad to become immersed in another culture

I learned not only another language, but also another culture in France. I fell in love with pains au chocolat (chocolate croissants), Orangina (a bubbly orange juice), and unflavored yogurts served in thick, solid cylinders and then stirred with granulated sugar. I adopted the French habits of saying hello and goodbye whenever entering or leaving a small store (something I still do to this day), holding the door open for the person behind me (no matter how far behind they may be), and of speaking softly in public as to not cause a scene (something I unfortunately have not carried back to my life in the U.S.).

A multicultural party in my dormitory in Montpellier, France

A multicultural party in my dormitory in Montpellier, France in 1995

Study abroad to find connection

I slowed down from the hectic pace of America. I played a lot of cards with friends and drank an abundance of café crèmes at sidewalk cafes. (Café crème is espresso with steamed milk that locals drink only in the morning but which I drank whenever I desired, faux pas though it was). My friends hailed from France, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, England, Mozambique and from all over the U.S. I felt a greater connection to my fellow students and my adopted French town of Montpellier than I ever felt at the sprawling Arizona State University campus back home.

Standing in front the White House during the White House Travel Bloggers Summit on Global Citizenship and Study Abroad

Standing in front the White House during the White House Travel Bloggers Summit on Global Citizenship and Study Abroad in 2014

Study abroad to expand opportunities

When I studied abroad, I didn’t just step outside my comfort zone, I lived outside my comfort zone. Studying abroad and visiting foreign countries has formed me into the open-minded, travel-loving, dream-seeking person I am today. The greatest lesson I learned during my year overseas was that I could tackle difficult situations and not just survive, but thrive. It would have been easier to stay at home. But, oh! The things I would have missed if I had not gone. I can’t imagine who I would be today without those experiences. I certainly wouldn’t have been invited to the White House as one of the top travel bloggers in the world. That much I know.

Have you studied abroad? Know someone who has? Why should students study abroad? Chime in and let your voice be heard. Click the ADD ME button to add yourself to the #StudyAbroadBecause mosaic.
Patent pending, Hyperactivate
About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. My husband and I (Colleen’s parents) love to travel too. We enjoyed a trip to Egypt in 2009 with friends we made during our trip the China in 2008. We still keep in touch with our Egyptian guide on Facebook. Sorry to say not many Americans are traveling there this year. We feel lucky to have taken the trip to sail on the Nile River and visit Cairo and the ancient Pyramids when we did.

  2. Claudia Laroye says

    I love the message of #StudyAbroadBecause, and totally agree with everything in your post. I studied abroad in Sweden in 1985-86 as a Rotary Exchange Student in my grade 12 year, and it was the best experience of my life. I was lucky enough to have travelled quite a bit prior to my exchange year, but living in another country, going to school with my peers and learning a new language is completely different than a two-week vacay. I would highly recommend any student take time to do a high school, college, or summer exchange. You will be changed, and change others, through the experience, and your worldview will be transformed, for the better.

  3. I’m so incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to study abroad. And not just because I could drink wine in restaurants at age 20. I gained the perspective to better see my own country and culture. I also received an early boost to my career by becoming bilingual.

    I really can’t think of any reason NOT to study abroad!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Abby – Ha! Yes, being able to go to bars and nightclubs (legally) in Europe was a nice bonus. I found that European college students didn’t do as much binge drinking as American students in the US…probably because it IS legal at a younger age.

  4. Amber's The Mile High Mama says

    I am fully committed to send my kids on a study abroad. My senior year of college, I studied at BYU’s Jerusalem Center and it was life-changing. Love love love that they are placing an emphasis on it.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Amber – I think it’s so great that you are encouraging your kids to study abroad. Me too! And…I didn’t know you studied in Jerusalem! That must have been incredible.

  5. The mind broadening opportunities of traveling abroad are needed badly by many young Americans … I hope the end result of this travel summit achieves its goal!

  6. Everything said in this post is so true. As a person you grow and become more empathetic with foreigner’s views. Great post.

  7. Desert Safari Dubai says

    hi. Thanks for this post….its really something that I also agree about. Studying abroad, travelling, it’s all major part of our life. Me personally does think that life is incomplete without travel. I gottu say that!. Anyways, everything has it cons, but let’s be positive! and enjoy the New Year!

  8. Michele Larson says

    Thanks for sharing this! I never had the chance to study abroad, but have been trying to make up for it since by traveling as an adult. We are encouraging our daughter to study abroad next year as well. The only problem she has is narrowing down where she wants to go with all the choices! Congrats on your trip and your future trip to DC!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Thank you for your kind wishes, Michele! Congrats to you for making travel a priority as an adult and for encouraging your daughter to study abroad!

  9. Study abroad because it will help you become a global citizen.

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