Bowen: Discovering Your Accent in Study Abroad | WYPR

Bowen: Discovering Your Accent in Study Abroad

Jan 15, 2019

Credit Rob Ferrell

Here at Goucher, we require all students to study abroad before they graduate. We do this in part because employers want graduates who can navigate working with people from different cultures and backgrounds, but also because study abroad provides an almost unique opportunity for self-discovery, reflection, and growth.

One of the first things we notice when we leave home is that everyone else in the world speaks with an accent. Then we realize that we too have an accent. Upon further reflection, we get the big reveal—that everyone has an accent. There is no neutral way of speaking, and everyone speaks in a way conditioned by culture, geography, and experience.

This is equally true for how we all think—everyone also has a thought accent and study abroad brings us face to face with our assumptions and how they differ from those in our new surroundings. We can exchange one thought accent for another—just as we can learn a new spoken accent—but the insight that we all have assumptions that are invisible to us is fundamental to critical thinking.

Initially, this can seem crippling, especially for students whose high school experience was all about a single truth or a single right answer. But understanding that different is often just different is a critical path to many things. Study abroad is not just about visiting difference; it is about encountering your own difference, your own assumptions and learning that everyone thinks with an accent.

-José Antonio Bowen, president of Goucher College.