Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York (HONY), has recently spent fifty days abroad to expand his photography project in underdeveloped, war- and/or poverty-stricken countries as part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The goal was to depict people from countries such as Iraq, Ukraine, and Jordan through the emotional and humane lens of his photography, whose aim is to connect people from all over the world by showing that we are more similar than we may imagine.
Stanton visited countries that are often addressed solely when linked to war and political chaos mirrors, and the significance of his work is in his attempt to focus on breaking geopolitical barriers between Americans and these foreigners, and to hopefully connect them on a more human-to-human rather than nation-to-nation or issue-to-issue basis.
Creating this type of connection serves to many students as motivation to temporarily move to another country and assimilate to a new culture. By studying abroad, one not only gains a different educational experience and the chance to explore a new country, but also to meet foreigners in ways that render them less “foreign” and more “personally familiar.”
This type of relationship building serves to open people’s minds to the fact that regular Americans share similarities with regular Turkish people, for example, and that one culture and learn from the other. In today’s world, where global conflicts have been leading more and more towards military rather than diplomatic measures, it is essential for people from different countries to make such connections and thus possibly come to care more personally about these problems.
Certainly people need to acquire a certain level of political and cultural awareness to best understand foreigners, but a key component that HONY has sought to feature and that study abroad experiences may lead to is the connection to the more personal, human side to people who, from afar, may only be generalized into categories such as “war refugees” “extremists,” for example.
People’s invested interest grows the most when they create a personal, emotional connection to an issue. We may not react strongly to slave workers in Bangladesh, for instance, unless we personally know a victim or is somehow personally affected by it. HONY does not directly provide people with experiences, but it does create more emotional, personal ties among strangers. Although it is unlikely that study abroad programs would provide such serious connections among people, it is still one of the greatest chances college students would have to immerse themselves in a new culture and try to better understand and connect with foreigners on a more personal level.