Immersion learning can transform students’ lives
One of my most cherished wishes is to visit all of Europe. As I look at its map, dotted with melodious-sounding cities and villages, I cannot help but smile at its whimsical possibilities. From chic alpine retreats and serene gardens to glorious opera houses and castles, cafes overlooking breathtaking natural vistas and libraries fit for bibliophiles, Europe is indeed a paradise for the aesthete. To me, such a tour would not only be a sensory experience but something more profound and touching; closer to a refinement of the soul.
In fact, during the 17th and 18th centuries, it was expected of young aristocrats to go on a “Grand Tour” of major European cities as part of their liberal education before entering high society. Back then, the nobility valued good taste in fashion, manners, intellect and general knowledge, patronage and alliances, and living an epicurean lifestyle. Thus, the itinerary would have to include influential cities that would groom such a persona, like Paris, Geneva, Venice, Florence and Rome. A private tutor would usually accompany the nobles to better facilitate the learning process. This tradition proved to be quite a success: English aristocrats recreated the Palladian villas of the Veneto region in their estate homes and gardens; the German art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann established the field of art history with his seminal research on Greek and Roman sculptures; and many entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to recreate antiquarian objects for mass production.
Today, such immersion learning experiences could help us become better global citizens. We live in a connected and interdependent world that thrives on exchanging ideas and fostering partnerships. By encouraging students to go on short study abroad programs, they can be exposed to the best minds in their respective fields, in addition to learning important social and diplomacy skills, cultivating a global mindset, fostering networks, and mastering a new language. The valuable skills and knowledge gained would ultimately improve students’ future employment prospects. It would also be an excellent opportunity to groom all the traits that form their whole personas, from having a sense of purpose to enjoying new hobbies and inspiring future business ideas.
The valuable skills and knowledge gained would ultimately improve students’ future employment prospects.
Many schools and universities offer short immersion learning programs as part of the students’ overall learning track. In the US, a global nonprofit organization, World Learning, has been organizing summer study abroad programs for more than 85 years. Its flagship program, “The Experiment in International Living,” is designed in such a way that high school students can explore the world in a tailored, meaningful way, allowing them to be fully immersed in memorable and impactful cultural experiences in 25 countries.
Programs are structured in month-long stays, starting off with a few days of orienting students in their new environments by exploring cultural sights and activities. Program leaders acquaint students with the cultural norms, basic language skills, and new ways of learning and thinking, in addition to promoting friendships with peers. Through the homestay accommodation, students are able to fully immerse themselves in the daily life of the local community as a family member, taking part in cultural activities. Furthermore, students can also pursue specific interests dear to their hearts, such as art, history, cooking, language, politics, ecology, and much more.
A look at the program to Ecuador is enough to stir your wanderlust. Students first get an introduction to the history and culture of Ecuador, along with interactive Spanish lessons. Then they embark on a whirlwind adventure of visiting the Mindo Cloud Forest, the Amazon jungle and the Galapagos Islands. Activities include rafting on the river, seeing waterfalls, making chocolate, visiting a butterfly farm, horseback riding, participating in a cooking class, and going on nature walks with an Ecuadorian ecologist. Lastly, students take part in a community project to support local environmental efforts.
Another example is the program to Tokyo, which is themed around Japanese animation. In this unique program, students are taken on a cultural tour of the city, sampling the local cuisine, visiting museums and hot springs, trying on a kimono, and participating in a traditional tea ceremony, all while picking up the Japanese language. Next, students attend an anime school, where they can learn all about design, coloring, animation and voiceover techniques. They also supplement their learning by visiting the iconic Harajuku anime neighborhood, the flamboyant arcades in Akihabara, and the tech district of Ikebukuro.
The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) in the US also promotes international education and exchange programs, in partnership with more than 350 universities and colleges. One of its signature programs, “Women in STEM,” is a three-week trip to Monteverde in Costa Rica. Female high school students get the chance to work with international female scientists and experts to learn how science can make a difference in people’s lives. They live in a bungalow at the edge of a cloud forest, close to the CIEE Global Institute — a groundbreaking eco-campus spanning 150 acres, complete with classroom space, laboratories, a library, organic gardens, and a farm. By the end of the program, they will have been fully immersed in the experience of being a scientist who creates a positive impact.
Immersion learning programs can truly transform the way students learn. They offer a dynamic, thematic and fascinating approach to acquiring knowledge and skills that are essential to succeeding in the workplace.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature.