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How Amanda Gorman exemplifies the poetry and power of study abroad

Study abroad alumni everywhere are living proof of the unique qualities gained only as a result of living and learning outside your comfort zone
February 3 2021
4 Min Read

In a dark time for the world, Amanda Gorman has been a bright light. If you haven’t yet read the poem Amanda recited, The Hill We Climb, at US president Joe Biden’s Inauguration in January, take a minute — it’s absolutely worth it. Who knew how desperate we were for such hopeful and honest words?

And here’s the fun bit — Amanda Gorman studied abroad.

We love to talk about famous people who studied abroad. It is potential exposure for a field and an experience that generally flies under the radar — unless something has gone wrong, study abroad is not making headlines.

For those of us who work in the international education field (or who have studied or lived abroad ourselves), the overall lack of interest in study abroad sometimes feels like a personal affront. We love to talk about how study abroad is a “life-changing experience” and “creates global leaders” (I’m air-quoting myself here)—but in reality, eyes often glaze over.

For IES Abroad, it is alumni like Meghan Markle (yes, the royal one), writer John Irving (of Cider House Rules and Prayer for Owen Meany fame), journalist David Muir (Emmy award-winning anchor of ABC World News Tonight), or Janet Napolitano (former US Secretary of Homeland Security) — to name a few — who help get people’s attention about something we already know: study abroad can be extraordinary.

Now, we can add Amanda Gorman to that list.

Gorman, who spent a semester studying with IES Abroad in Madrid while she was enrolled at Harvard University, told us that study abroad made her “a better poet, a better person, and a better student”.

In the last few weeks, this first-ever US National Youth Poet Laureate’s books have also topped Amazon’s bestseller lists.  Even better, we also happen to know that she’s kind, empathetic, and thoughtful on top of everything else. She gracefully and eloquently embodies the global leadership we love to talk about when we talk about study abroad.

Today’s Gen Z global leaders, like Amanda, are uniquely, passionately, and personally tuned into the critical challenges of our time more than any other generation before them. Challenges like systemic racism and nativism, the sustainability of our environment, advocating for human rights, and alleviating poverty and hunger are seen as real threats to daily life, not just distant issues.

Gen Z also approaches these concerns in creative and multi-faceted ways—an attribute unique to their generation. This generation of students no longer see themselves with one career identity as many generations before them did (you would be a politician, a poet, or an activist—not all three). Instead, they are embracing the benefits of multi-dimensional identities and careers, just like Amanda who is all three.

Our president and CEO, Gregory D. Hess, Ph.D., often says, “Study abroad changes lives, and changed lives change the world.”

Study abroad alumni everywhere (famous or not!) are living proof of the unique qualities gained only as a result of living and learning outside your comfort zone. Simply put, study abroad makes you more understanding and empathetic to those unlike yourself.

“No matter what type of student studies abroad, the benefits will also be uniquely their own”

No matter what type of student studies abroad, the benefits will also be uniquely their own. I wish that we could say that study abroad is an option for everyone, but we know access to this opportunity is anything but equal. The barriers to study and travel abroad are many—cost and accessibility alone are two huge challenges that we at IES Abroad see as part of our responsibility to alleviate as much as we can, especially in a post-Covid world. There is still so much work to be done.

In the meantime, though, perhaps now you’ll notice how Vienna plays a dominant role in many of John Irving’s books… because he studied abroad there.

Or maybe if you catch David Muir on World News Tonight, you can imagine him quizzing (and being quizzed by) his host family—a nightly exercise that he said eventually became his nightly routine on television, too.

And, if you watch Amanda Gorman recite her poem at the upcoming Superbowl, perhaps now you’ll also see a young woman who was shaped and impacted by study abroad, someone who strives to be a global leader—in fact, she plans to run for president.

She’s got our vote.

About the author:

Amy Ruhter McMillan is the Senior Associate Vice President of Marketing at IES Abroad, a not-for-profit study abroad and internship provider based in Chicago, Illinois.  Having grown up in Hong Kong, studied abroad in Cambridge, England, and now having worked in the study abroad field for more than 20 years, her eyes will definitely not glaze over if you ever want to talk about travel and all the extraordinary things that happen because of it.


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