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How Amanda Gorman exemplifies the poetry and power of study abroad

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?

Amanda Gorman (centre) studied abroad in Madrid with IES Abroad. Photo: IES Abroad

"We know access to this opportunity is anything but equal"

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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16 Responses to How Amanda Gorman exemplifies the poetry and power of study abroad

  1. Study abroad made my life better and opened my eyes to how the US fits into the world. Thanks for writing about my new favorite poet, Amanda Gorman, and how studying abroad enriched her life, too. She made her poem come alive for the world on 1/20/21, and my 7th graders really connected with her and her words.

  2. Rachel Maddow, Bill Clinton, Obama, General Wessley Clark, Senator Chris Coons, etc, all studied abroad. It’s one experience every student should have in their educational career en route to being truly a world citizen.

  3. I’m so happy for this intelligent and articulate young lady. She’s gaining so much attention for once, worldly for her words, and not taking her clothes off n twerking…I think she is definitely someone I want my soon to be 7 yr old granddaughter to emulate #educationispower #rolemodel

  4. I recommend that everyone spend at least a semester abroad preferably in a non English speaking country though most countries have some working level of English. Spend a year learning a different language. I lived in Madrid for 13 years. Best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

  5. It is so true about studying abroad. It is really good for the new wave generation.

    My travels to three different countries made a great appreciation for me.

    Congratulations to all those who plan to study abroad.

  6. I am interested in more information regarding job opportunities as International Study Abroad Director.
    I have lived in and studied in Italy and Austrslia for over a year, traveled to many other countries.
    Graduated with bachelor’s degree in European Studies major and minor in Italian; masters degree in Italian from Middlebury College; master’s degree candidate in World History at Rutger’s University.

  7. I do agree the benefits of studying abroad. Unfortunately, this is not an option for majority of the students, despite available scholarships/sponsorships. Much less for students from developing and poor countries.

  8. Many years ago, Paul Simon of Illinois was running to be nominated by his party for the presidency. Our son, (now 47 who practices international law) was in junior high and realized he would be eligible to vote in the next presidential election. He asked Senator Simon what he should do between the present and when he could vote. Simon said, “Get involved in a political campaign at any level and get out of the country.” Our son spent his junior year of college studying in Manchester, England.

  9. I studied at the Sorbonne in Paris in my junior year. It changed my life. I subsequently married a student in my class in Paris and lived in France for 12 years. I speak French fluently. have worked as an expat in Paris, have French friends and consider France my adopted home as I grew into an adult there. Yes, study abroad is a gift that keeps giving as you experience and appreciate another culture.

  10. I agree completely with you because studying abroad leads me to Africa Europe and America. You see issues as global before to break them down .At the same time you embrace different language (I speak English French and Spanish)making you World citizen..Amanda and Meghan are products of such combinations that enrich the USA.

  11. Amanda’s poem was amazing and I appreciate her creativity, passion and excellent delivery of it. It truly made my heart smile and gave me will to make a difference in these perilous times.

    Amanda, you are loved for your contribution to the world. Please continue the journey that God has given you and stay true to yourself. ♥️♥️🥰🥰

  12. Two of my nieces studied abroad as well as my son and it made them into more well rounded emphatic people. When you’ve seen other parts of the world and been exposed to cultures not your own it it makes you a better more well rounded individual.

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