On a recent trip to America, I had the pleasure of meeting several former Bristol Grammar School students who are now studying or working in the USA. They were engaged in a wide range of courses and professions but one thing they shared was that they had all found the experience of living and working overseas to be incredibly positive. It also struck me when talking to them that none of them had expected to end up in the USA when they were at school.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question almost all children are asked. The response may well change as they go through childhood but their answer to this question, and the route they plan to get there, is usually, and understandably, still based on what is known and familiar. They draw from the example of what their parents, an older sibling or a family friend did. Talking to our overseas alumni, I was reminded of the value of looking beyond the familiar and taking the road less travelled.
Time spent studying abroad is packed with learning opportunities that extend well beyond the content of any formal qualification and offers a truly enriching experience to those who undertake it. On a more practical level, there can be financial benefits as well: many American colleges offer generous scholarships or bursaries, and throughout the EU there are universities who teach in English and charge no, or considerably lower, fees than are payable in England.
Today’s children will work in a world very different from that their grandparents, or even parents knew. Rapid technological change is rendering some jobs obsolete and creating whole new sectors in a comparatively short space of time. The ability to respond to change, to work creatively and collaboratively, to face challenges with confidence, and to embrace opportunities as they arise are key skills our young people need to gain for this future.
I would argue that these are skills the experience of living and working overseas, alongside others whose cultural and life experiences are very different to our own, can help us develop. Today’s students can do much to prepare for tomorrow’s unknown future by embracing the opportunity to travel for study or for work; it may not be how they imagined their future, but it will give them an experience that will prove immensely valuable as they go through life.
Headmaster, Bristol Grammar School