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Want Your Kids to Learn? Send Them Away

At school, many of my classmates wanted to be social workers. No one mentioned money as a goal in itself; that would be frowned on as self-centered and shallow. My host brother wore only black and had a half-shaved head with piercings. He wanted to help street kids for a career.

Physical self-consciousness was also wonderfully absent -- the emphasis on a person's contribution and values meant teenage diets or obsession with appearance were viewed as superficial.

My host father helped the unemployed find jobs and took them on excursions to boost morale. It's no doubt part of the reason social-cohesion is almost palpable in Denmark and violent crime rates are low.

As I was forced to explain my stance on everything from socialism to welfare and the monarchy, I realized a person's values and beliefs are rarely tested in their comfort zone. Many are simply absorbed from home culture.

>>Read More: You Don't Know What Your Kids Are Listening To

Uncomfortable experiences were also educative. Denmark is very monocultural compared to the U.S. or Australia. With a mixed ethnic background, I experienced what it was like to feel part of a minority or "the other" in a society. For any teenager, it's a pointed lesson in empathy.

As my friends finished their first year of college, I returned home with a new perspective. I believed I could achieve anything after learning Danish and surviving a year overseas alone; I was less self-centered and dropped the idea money was any measure of success. I quit my law degree for journalism (ensuring professional success would never be reflected in monetary terms) and saw my home culture through more considered eyes.

A backpacking trip with friends after high school is no substitute. It doesn't require commitment to any place or culture and allows young people to travel in their own comfort-bubble.

Too many American parents deny their children rich lives because of their own fears -- of other cultures, foreign places, or the unknown.

If I'd been blunt, I would have told the lawyer that pushing his son into the world was the best thing he could do as a parent; no matter how much he'd miss him.

-- By Jane Searle in New York

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