Studying abroad as a great way to bridge young minds and overcome differences

Studying abroad as a great way to bridge young minds and overcome differences

My name is Fran Leskovar, I am 19 years old and I am a proud American citizen. Even from an early age, I have always been fascinated by the world affairs that are constantly changing, and by my country, the United States of America. I consider myself a “Jeffersonian” and, thus, I believe in the freedom and rights of every citizen of this planet; however, my perception of the world changed on November 13, 2015 when Paris, the city of Monna Lisa, suffered the biggest tragedy ever. This terrorist attack destroyed my feelings of security, forcing me to question the world and policies around me, and ignited my interest in current and past political decisions. I started getting interested in how the unintended consequences of policies might reshape and severely damage our planet. In addition, I realized that the world is not a perfect place and, thus, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and experience different cultures.

 Photo credit: Fran Leskovar

Photo credit: Fran Leskovar

Studying abroad, in Croatia, had a tremendous impact on me. I believe that studying abroad is an important experience for anyone’s life and necessary for understanding the complexity of the world, especially if you are coming from the Western countries. Furthermore, it has a deep effect on students because it brings together people from different backgrounds. In other words, it is a bridge that connects people with different cultures, religions and traditions, forcing them to think critically and to become more enlightened. 

Studying abroad has changed the way I viewed all kinds of things, which I had previously taken for granted. This experience has provided me with an opportunity to expand my views on social issues and to realize how lucky I am as an American. Furthermore, I have learned to think objectively about myself, how to speak my mind and how to defend the principles that are important in my life.  For example, during my last year studying and living abroad, I had an intense debate about the differences between the Croatian and the American educational systems. It was terrible, but nevertheless a useful experience. I tried to explain my opinion, to my fellow students and the professor, that the main purpose of the Croatian educational system is to “dehumanize” students and prepare them for a “quiet life” without critical thinking. On the other hand, my croatian classmates argued that the Croatian system is better because it’s hard and complex and thus shapes people that are going to change the world. In addition, they argued that education should not be seen as a partnership between teachers and students, as we in the United States envision it; but it should be a system in which the teacher is seen as a higher source of knowledge the students have to look up to. In other words, they argued that, in order to learn anything, students have to have a person that is going to guide them. Unfortunately, I disagreed and I had to give a short speech on why I think the Croatian system is a system of tyranny and oppression. I said that the Croatian system of education is a clear example of Paulo Freire’s “banking concept”: it’s only purpose is to dehumanize you and to create a society that is not going to question the government’s decisions. As an example of this, I referred to the many occasions where the teacher tried to “kill” my emotions and critical thinking, such as when she said that I was not “worth of nothing” and that I couldn’t ask questions about the reading because I was “born second, not first”. I then ended my intervention saying that In America, we strongly oppose to using instruments of education as tools for dehumanization. In fact, we think that students should be partners with the teachers and that they should work together in class discussions. After that, everyone paused for a second and then my teacher broke the ice and she disagreed with me, but that I had a right to share my opinion and she then congratulated me on my courage. As for my fellow students, some agreed with me and some didn’t, but that is politics. It was a tough moment, but from that experience I learned that if you want to be a politician, you can’t be shy and you have to say what you think. It was also a very powerful moment, because for the first time in my life I realized that I wanted to become a politician and that speech is a powerful tool against oppression. Fundamentally, I’ve learned to tolerate differences and recognize and appreciate diversity. Studying abroad gave me a chance to travel around Europe. Also, I had an opportunity to spend some time in locations which are known as leading global hubs. For example, Strasbourg: the center of EU’s power. I also had the opportunity to take part in European Youth Events, where we discussed about Brexit, the future of the world, peace, and democracy. Also, I had the opportunity to learn about foreign affairs from renowned politicians and diplomats. 

Sadly, this experience made me realize that young people are not interested in current politics nor in changing the status quo. Why is that so?  Probably, the main problem is that people do not trust politicians, and thus young people, in particular, are not eager to engage in politics because they feel that the government is not really thinking of them. People also don’t understand the inner workings of the institutions, because the level of complexity has become way too high. We need to change that! Therefore, I decided to establish a political club at my university that would promote citizenship and political education among younger generations. I am trying to create a political app that youngsters could use to share their ideas and projects and to like or dislike projects and legislations of politicians. Furthermore, I conducted a research that aimed at verifying whether more millennial representatives in the Government would encourage more younger eligible voters to vote. Last but not least, campaigns for the education of children in Africa is one of the highest priorities of my club, because I believe that Africa cannot be developed, unless people are educated. Therefore, the prize money would be used to gather a group of students that would travel to Africa and help the latter continent develop.

The most important thing is to bring young people together and open dialogue between them. I believe we have to build bridges, not walls. That’s the only way we can succeed. As President Obama would say: “It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American, young or old, rich or poor, disabled, gay or straight. You can succeed if you’re willing to try and that is our mission for a better tomorrow”.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV

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Educational Advocacy Initiative developing a platform where students and professors can meet

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