Nov 23, 2009

The Educational Value of Travel

Taking the opportunity to learn in a fresh, new environment can engage even the most reluctant learner out there. And while some top-tier students choose to commit their free time to resume-builders like community service and sports teams, others find more value in exploring some place new. That’s not to say there isn’t tremendous merit in serving the community or leading a team- undoubtedly, both offer the potential for incredible experiences in and of themselves. But resources permitting, some students may benefit more from simply traveling.

For example, there has been plenty of talk on this blog about the improvement of learning through the diversification of the learning experience and multimodal teaching methods, but the total physical immersion of travel takes this idea to a whole new level. For example, all of the senses are engaged when a traveler simply walks down a foreign street--they can see the architecture, hear the language, and smell the local food. This creates an unparalleled number of connections in the brain, enhancing learning like nothing else can.

Additionally, one should never forget the educational applications that travel can bring to specific academic subjects. This is part of the reason why field trips are so awesome. What better way is there to learn about the history of the Roman Empire than to actually touch a part of the Coliseum? Or, one could dive into the art of drama by attending a Shakespearean production in the reconstructed Globe Theater of London. Or how about picking up a foreign language by using it non-stop in its country of origin? Of course, you don’t necessarily need to leave the country--think of the benefits of learning about the American Government by spending a week in Washington D.C., or the effects of volcanoes in Hawaii, or marine biology along the California coast?

Some see travel as a mere luxury. This is certainly true in some cases--for example, sitting on the beach all day while you stare at the water and hold a cold beverage is not exactly academically rigorous (even if your goal is to examine the tides!). But if you concentrate on gathering knowledge, and head off somewhere with a sense of discovery and an eagerness to learn, travel could be the best teacher you ever have.

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