Study abroad

Opinion by Kiran Sridhar
Nov. 3, 2015, 11:59 p.m.

In an October 2011 Daily op-ed, Teryn Norris and Eli Pollak bemoaned the fact that the “financial services industry drew a full 20 percent of Harvard graduates and over 15 percent of Stanford and MIT graduates.” Norris and Pollak found it unconscionable that so many of the nation’s brightest minds were working in these jobs, and characterized many top universities as “vocational training centers” for the financial sector.

Today, Stanford is, in some ways, becoming a vocational training center for the Silicon Valley tech scene. It is easy to see why: Every day, there are media reports about the newest unicorn — a startup to gain a market cap of over $1 billion or about the latest perk Google is offering to its employees. Popular culture is enamored by many of Silicon Valley’s products, from iPhones to Teslas. Many on campus echo Gavin Belson’s pretentious statement on the HBO sitcom “Silicon Valley” that the region today is much like “Florence during the Renaissance.”

Silicon Valley is certainly an incredible hub of innovation and many Stanford graduates have made a profound impact working in the tech sector. But in order for the Stanford alumni base at large to make a meaningful impact on the world, more students must move beyond the isolated bubble of flip-flops, sunny weather and VC pitches.

One way to gain a broader perspective is through experiencing new cultures. From a very young age, I have been fortunate to travel to many regions of the world; I spent my first birthday in Australia and my second in India. I grew up in the Bay Area, but have always enjoyed immersing myself in different cultures and plan to live overseas for an extended period of time. Without question, my experiences abroad helped open my mind and made me comfortable experiencing new cultures.

My experience jives with psychological research. A study by William Maddux of INSEAD and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern found that people who lived in foreign countries were better equipped to solve puzzles and problems because they “realize that there are many different — and valid — ways of living in the world.” By traveling, you become more accustomed to, and better equipped to thrive in new environments.

Many Stanford students take advantage of the numerous opportunities afforded by the Bing Overseas Study Program to study new cultures, places and people. But a large chunk of students, particularly those studying engineering and computer science, cannot take advantage of these opportunities because of a prohibitively high number of required units. I believe that study abroad should be a graduation requirement for every student, regardless of major.

Some would argue that the quality of engineering education would be lower in satellite locations than at Stanford. These critics might be right, but the lessons each student reaps from studying abroad are invaluable. By studying abroad, students learn about new modes of thinking and explore diverging perspectives. They also reap insights on how their unique skill sets can be leveraged to develop nascent industries and solve huge problems. These lessons are imperative for students seeking to make a substantive impact around the world.

Stanford alums are some of the smartest people on earth. It’s a travesty if many graduates lack the exposure necessary to leverage their skills and make a big impact.


Contact Kiran Sridhar at kirsrid ‘at’ 

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