What have I gained during my studies abroad, as a scientist and ecologist? Certainly a larger ecological footprint with much more ‘obligatory’ traveling around, flying home for Christmas and things like that. Not the most glorious gain for ecologists. But what else? Are there aspects, which would have been hidden from me, unreachable, if I would not have done this?
When I was wondering and thinking about, how studying abroad has shaped my procedure and how it could be potentially have been different, I also thought about the purpose of studying in general. There is this little difference, between being trained to do a job, and on the other hand, shape our intellect and become an «educated» individual by studying. The latter is a lot about learning how to think by studying something particular, which thereafter is applicable to anything.
What we are doing all the time when studying, on our way to become eventually researchers, is to go in traps and dead end roads. To do nothing than to ask «But why, why, and why again«. To continue, until nothing is left. And why is this «WHY» so important? Because sometimes, if one of the «why’s» wants just to be avoided, it is, because there is fear. The fear of beliefs of being destroyed. And I think independent of what we are studying, a big job for everyone is, to destroy beliefs, systematically.
How, seeing this goal, is it useful to study abroad? I think, it certainly is. It is most easy to not quest your beliefs, when surrounded by people who have exactly the same education as you do and who especially have the exactly same beliefs. Beliefs are just like assumptions we make, often without realizing, about how the world works. And we are tempted again and again, to put a bigger or smaller fundament of assumptions as a base layer under otherwise logical reasoning.
I got a wider angle on how people see natural entities and which role non-human beings can have for people by living in different countries (and suddenly I understood, how «German» my perspective was, demonstrated for example by a textbook, perfectly predicting my opinion on catch-and-release fishing).
This made me re-think and identify beliefs and assumptions I had. I think, to understand our own beliefs is one of the most important things to do, not only for the sake of doing «good» science, but also for our personal development. By staying in my «home bubble», I certainly did not re-think so much. And certainly not enough. But of course, to be in another place does not help, if you do not throw yourself in conversations (and in the inner struggle). And conversations in itself can be traveling as well (even without too much CO²).
So get out there, challenge your brain with thinking, reflection and questioning. Happy science! 🙂