Reflection on the importance of studying abroad

News in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at Luther College

About 10 years ago, I embarked on the greatest adventure of my life so far—studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain. I reflect on some part of my experience there every day. It has helped shape who I am in many ways. To me, the value of studying abroad is endless, because it brings you a new perspective on the connectedness of the world, intimate knowledge of other cultures, and shows you the importance of communication.

This summer, my wife Beth and I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and visit Barcelona and Madrid. For each of us, it was a return to Spain—I had my study abroad experience as a junior, and she toured Europe with the Nordic Choir as a senior. It was great to travel together to a place that is so often a topic of conversation in our house.

Eric Schultz car

While exploring Madrid we came upon the Congreso de los Diputados, which is the Spanish Parliament. Parked outside of the administration building was a small car covered with election posters from the 1977 electoral campaign. The car was advertising an exhibition inside about the Spanish transition from dictatorship to modern European democracy. This may not mean much to you, but to me it was that moment when the college research and book learning became tangible and real, as I had completed my senior paper at Luther on the Spanish transición. We stepped inside.

Contained in this exhibit were many of the actual documents signed into law that I had read about when researching my Senior Paper in Preus Library. Worlds were colliding. I also saw first-hand artifacts and items that you cannot easily find through the research process. For example, there were newspapers from the era that described step-by-step how to cast a vote and video clips of campaign advertisements for all of the political parties that were involved in the election. The exhibition made these events and public figures that I had researched come to life in a way I could not have imagined.

Without my study abroad experience and without having researched the transición, I would have walked right past the Parliament exhibition. Instead I was drawn to it and to the pleasure of reconnecting with my work as a student. Even after returning home, I found myself going online to further research some of the items that I had seen in person at the exhibition in Madrid. Through this experience, I have discovered something else about value of study abroad and my Luther education—that the enrichment and curiosity of learning does not stop when you cross the stage to collect a diploma but truly carries forward throughout your life.