The 21st Century Scholar

by Bemgba Nyakuma

The illiterate of the 21st century, in the words of the American writer Alvin Toffler; will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. This in my opinion is one of the many reasons why many young people around the world go far and wide in search of knowledge and self improvement many years after their bachelor studies. Many have been known to commute to places far and wide around the globe in search of knowledge and learning; both described by B.A Lundvall (renowned Swedish Economics Professor) as “the most fundamental resource and process in the modern economy”. It sums up the reason why many institutions of higher learning in Europe, America and lately Asia have opened their doors and allowed the tide of “knowledge migrants” to flow-in and tap from the state of the art facilities, knowledge fountains and picturesque environs that have ushered in the best scientific discoveries and innovations over the years. These institutions are therefore saddled with enormous responsibilities to not only train these budding minds from different cultures from around the world but also integrate them into the cultures of the milieu they now have to live in, learn from and loathe as the case may be. It is a tough challenge for the universities as well as the host cities and students alike. The challenges often appear herculean especially for the students. But studying abroad itself is huge investment and financial burden for many students and their families not forgetting the abundant challenges such as culture, language barriers, weather, food, lifestyle, racism, other forms of rejection, bias, strange or different methods of teaching, hostile neighbors among others.

The greatest challenge for many students usually appears in the guise of the weather and climate. Many are suddenly faced with a new way of life in extreme cold, humidity or weather conditions much so different from the world they are used and must quickly adjust to the new climate. This is in part due to the fact students are often excited, anxious or ignorant before arrival they forget to prepare for the weather. Hence they often arrive unprepared and are forced to tread the slow, painful path of adapting to the merciless wiles of the weather. Many eventually do adjust but this usually takes some time.

For some students the weather is not a problem and so they adjust and settle in quite quickly. However as academic studies commence, a new huddle appears in the novel often strange methods of teaching and learning found in these universities. The schools offer the new students’ state of the art teaching facilities, employing the most up to date teaching methods that can be found in the most modern institutions of higher learning. Because most students that arrive are not accustomed to this, they must quickly also fine-tune themselves to academic life using these facilities. This is particularly a problem for some students especially from developing countries, who are often not accustomed with the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in learning. At first this leaves them a little frustrated at the beginning. The seemingly hard process of learning how to use these teaching and learning aids such as the internet, email, computers, and blackboard simply adds to the many other challenges they face. This is often hard to adapt to, when compared to their home countries where their professors simply use chalk boards and lectures don’t employ power points or computer aided analogies drive home the point. Fortunately, as often is the case, new students eventually adapt to the new teaching methods.

These however are not all the challenges these new students face. It will be foolhardy to assume otherwise especially not forgetting the hydra faced issue of racism, bias, and various forms of rejection. But as the old cliché goes, nothing good comes easy, but with time the students heal from the scars of the initial obstacles and make the best of the opportunity. After all, in the words of Mortimer Adler, “The purpose of learning is growth…” and because the reason why these students leave home to study abroad in the first place is to search for knowledge and self improvement. The challenges help to drill the students and eventually help to imbibe in them the norms of life as students in het buitenland (in a foreign land, as the Dutch say).

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