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The benefit to the individual of studying foreign cultures and languages is actually quite substantial, especially from the perspective of cognitive development. Many Americans historically have proven resistant to taking an active interest in events outside of their borders, as is evident in results from testing in the fields of geography and world affairs. Absent an ongoing war in a particular part of the world, the American public traditionally recedes back into a state of psychological isolation. A product of America’s geography – friendly and militarily weak neighbors to the north and south, two vast oceans on each side – had given Americans the illusion that they could afford to ignore much of what went on in other regions of the world. Americans less inclined to study foreign languages, and are less willing to travel to foreign countries, with the exception of a small number of European destinations. Politically, it was only with the onset of the Second World War that some of the American public developed and maintained an active interest in world affairs.
But, whether that willful isolationism is beneficial or harmful is open to debate. Europeans, in contrast to Americans, are proud of their vastly expanded horizons, a product of their geographic proximity to one another and the historical shifting of borders, which resulted in specific languages being present on more than one side of some international borders. Yet, the longest, sustained period of peace on the European continent was the so-called “Pax Americana,” in which post-World War II international affairs were characterized by a large, heavily armed U.S. presence in Western Europe. So, the question remains with regard to the benefits of developing a world view.
With regard to the cognitive development of the individual citizen of the United States, it is arguably beneficial to adopt a broader world perspective than historically has been the case The German concept of Weltanschauung, the adoption of a worldwide perspective that provides a broader and more productive mental framework from which to analyze problems and issues, is almost certainly beneficial to as many individuals as will make the effort at learning foreign cultures and languages. This concept of Weltanschauung would potentially help to prevent problems between different ethnicities or nationalities by instilling in each person a greater understanding of and sensitivity to other, or foreign, perspectives. The glitch, however, is it has to be a two-way street, and cultural divides can be stubbornly deep.
It is hard to argue against expanding one’s horizons. Whether, in the long run, such expanded horizons help to resolve or prevent problems dividing peoples, however, remains uncertain.
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