Study Abroad Articles
Table of Contents
Each culture has standards of appearance and social behavior that set it apart from other cultures in subtle ways. In your new surroundings, what you consider normal dress and interaction may naturally let others know that you are not a local. Those who stick out as obvious visitors are targeted more often by pickpockets and other thieves. Less importantly, appearing "different" may draw stares from strangers, especially in heavily fashion-conscious cultures.
Since apparel tastes are different for each country, we recommend simply observing differences in dress for yourself when you arrive, and adjusting or not as you see fit, depending on what makes you most comfortable. A common clothing trend in many countries is less "athletic" clothing for day-to-day activities outside of the gym. For example, normal casual attire for an American student going to class in the US may include a hooded sweatshirt or team logo t-shirt, shorts, tennis shoes, white athletic socks, and a baseball cap. Such accessories may be less common in the classrooms or cafeterias of your host university. In addition, you may notice that your host country peers tend to dress up more than you're used to when they go out for an evening on the town, however this varies from city to city.
Many American students also quickly notice slight social differences in their new home. These, too, vary widely depending on where you will be studying. For instance, in some cultures, making eye contact with or greeting strangers may illicit a strange look or even draw unwanted attention. On the other hand, some other cultures may be less ashamed about making inquisitive eye contact, which may seem like rude staring to an American visitor.
*Please note that the ISA Site Specialist for your program can provide you with further details. Please contact the ISA Office with questions.
Transitioning into a new culture can be a difficult part of the study abroad experience. When our American perspectives are confronted by a different way of life, an internal conflict inevitably results. However, recognizing the stages and adjusting your attitude accordingly will help you overcome any conflict that may arise. Cultural adjustment is often described in four stages, though they don't necessarily take place in this order:
Weathering the tide of cultural adjustment will give you not only a greater understanding of the host culture, but also of yourself. It will challenge you and make you grow in ways you never expected!
No matter how much time you spend abroad, you will experience differences in yourself, your family and friends, and your surroundings upon your return home. Life has not only changed for you, but it has also changed for your friends and family. All of these changes can make you feel a little out of place at home. In fact, you may sometimes feel like a stranger in a familiar land. This new, uncomfortable feeling may be characterized as re-entry adjustment.
This process is much like the cultural adjustment you experienced when you first went abroad, only in reverse. Similar to having to adjust when you go to another country, you must make some adjustments coming home as well. The coping skills and strategies that were successful in helping you adjust to your host culture will be just as helpful coming home: get involved, identify a support group of other study abroad students, suspend judgment until you understand a situation, and always, always keep a sense of humor!
When preparing for your trip, it is important to be aware of what ISA offers, and how you should schedule your flight to best take advantage of our services. First of all, we do not recommend purchasing a plane ticket before you have been accepted into the program. Once accepted, you will be sent an itinerary with the exact dates and information on how to book a ticket, along with specific airport pick-up times if applicable to your program. Please make sure you understand such details as when to leave the U.S., when to arrive on site, whether an airport pick-up is included or not, and any pick-up times that may apply. For further details, please contact ISA.
Packing your luggage for the trip ahead can be exciting yet overwhelming and the task commonly leads to questions. Our best advice is to first think through the seasons that you will encounter during the program. Pack clothes that layer well and that can be mixed and matched (solid colors usually work best). As for toiletries, it's generally best to take full-sized instead of travel-sized items even though you'll be able to find most everything abroad-it will save you the hassle of having to run such errands when you will be busy settling in. In general, students tend to pack too much and then realize and regret it once abroad so remember not to over-do it. Furthermore, you will most likely acquire souvenirs and clothing from the country, so leave extra space.
Another consideration when you are packing is airline regulations. You must check with your airline to know its specific limits but most airlines allow two pieces of checked luggage and one carry-on item (within certain dimensions and weight), plus a personal item such as a purse or a laptop. Any excess of the airline's limits will incur a charge.
Individuals experience a varying range of effects from jet lag, from minor to severe. To combat the problem of crossing many time zones in one day, we recommend the following measures to help reduce the time it takes your body to adjust:
* Please note that the ISA Site Specialist for your program can provide you with further details. Please contact the ISA Office with questions.
GLBT students must realize that attitudes and tolerance toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues vary throughout the world. Some countries are more welcoming and open than the US, while others can be less accepting and receptive to the GLBT lifestyle. Generally speaking, acceptance is highest in large cities, but every student needs to be aware of the legalalities related to GLBT issues in the country they wish to study in. Students should research information regarding the laws and social acceptance to the GLBT lifestyle in the country. It's also a good idea to be aware of the organizations and support groups available in the country. Many travel guide books have helpful information specifically for GLBT students including, Let's Go, Lonely Planet, Frommer's, etc.
Much information can be found on the internet. Helpful websites are:
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission: http://www.iglhrc.org/site/iglhrc/
International Lesbian and Gay Association: http://www.ilga.org/
Out and About: http://www.planetout.com
The name United States of America evokes strong feelings abroad, both positive and negative. The cultural, economic, and political prominence of the US on the global scene means that it affects other nations. Therefore, you as an American abroad need to be aware of how our country is viewed, since you will likely face many opinions regarding your homeland.
The US leadership of the War on Terror faces harsh criticism from the general public in many countries including those nations whose administrations are strong allies of the United States in this effort. While strong ideological opposition towards initiatives like the US-led War in Iraq will not generally mean that people look negatively on you as a person, be prepared for statements confronting US policies. Negative feelings toward American policy rarely mean that you are in personal danger because you are an American. However, US citizens are advised to keep a low profile and avoid political demonstrations while abroad.
There are other common perceptions towards Americans on a social level. While many generalizations hold some truth, other ideas are exaggerated by movies and media coverage. Almost everyone you meet in your host country has daily access to the internet, cable television, and will have seen many American films. Though they may never have traveled to the US themselves, the natural tendency is to project these scenes and stereotypes onto their ideas about the way our country really is.
On the other hand, many will be very interested to hear about where you come from. Remember that by studying abroad you are automatically an ambassador for your country. Keep in mind that for some of those with whom you form relationships, you may be one of the only Americans that they've been in contact with! That personal connection provides you the opportunity to build a positive perception towards yourself and your fellow Americans, regardless of politics.
During your time abroad you will undoubtedly see and do things that you will want to tell your friends and family about back home. It is a good idea to know how to communicate while abroad in order to budget for this aspect of your program. Email is an easy mean of communication while abroad. All ISA offices have computers with internet access. Students can also access the internet at local internet cafes, and charges vary widely. There are various ways to communicate via telephone. Calling cards are easy to find abroad and your directors will help you determine which card is the best to buy. Calling cards can be used at any pay phone but students will need to ask permission with their host family before making calls on the home phone (even if using a calling card). Purchasing a cell phone abroad is becoming poplar and your resident director will be a great help in making this purchase, if buying a cell phone is an option in your country of study.
Most students embark on their study abroad journey with high expectations of making friends with host country locals. But many students return from the experience expressing disappointment with the low level of interaction and/or long-term "connection" they developed with their peers abroad. The good news is that there are certain initiatives you can take in order to better integrate.
There will be a natural tendency for many American students to remain surrounded by their American peers throughout their time abroad. Of course, some contact with fellow Americans, such as excursions, orientations, and roommate arrangements, will be unavoidable and healthy as you adjust to your surroundings together. Pushing yourself to move beyond this comfort zone in your free time should be your goal.
Extra-curricular involvements are a great way to meet locals at a friendly level. As a foreigner, you may have language or other natural barriers that make it hard to make meaningful connections in day-to-day casual settings like the classroom. However, the casual environment of dance lessons, sports teams, places of worship, or interest clubs facilitate connections. These settings may put you in touch with a variety of age groups beyond your student peers.
Social outings are another great way to meet locals. Visiting at discos, bars, or restaurants puts you in close contact with locals your age in a relaxed setting. Keep in mind that going out on the town with a large group of Americans may decrease your chances of meeting host country peers.
Your homestay may also be a source of introductions to extended family or community members. Take advantage of whatever level of contact is offered by your homestay.
Finally, have reasonable expectations. Acknowledge factors affecting how locals will relate to you, such as the short length of your stay in the host country, the subtle norms of social interaction unique to each culture, and the fact that your background and accent make you different in some way. Think of how your American peers tend to relate to international students on your home campus. While some are interested in finding out more about their country of origin and reaching out, others are indifferent. Keep a good attitude. . .don't be surprised or get down on the culture when not everyone is warm and doesn't become an instant friend. Relationships take time and are not automatic, but building friendships with locals is very possible.
Forming relationships with host country nationals is part of the goal and reward of study abroad. With the above suggestions to help you, you will be able to interact with locals in your host country. Hopefully, you will cultivate relationships and keep in touch with some of your friends abroad for years to come.
Getting from place to place when abroad can be very simple when you know some basic information. Trains, buses, and taxis are common means of transportation for all people in a foreign country, visitors included! In fact, the majority of people living in foreign countries utilize public transportation on a daily basis. Because public transportation is not as frequently utilized in the United States as it is in other countries, please see the information below for some helpful tips on getting from place to place with foreign public transportation.
For women, dressing inappropriately in revealing outfits such as short skirts and midriff-baring tops may be the latest style. However, in the host country those fashions may cause you to be the object of unwanted attention and potentially obscene comments.
Unfortunately, minor crimes and inappropriate comments towards women are commonplace in cities all over the world, even in the United States. These types of actions are often directed at foreign visitors, because they are generally seen as more vulnerable.
Staying safe abroad is like staying safe at home: use common sense and be aware of where you are and what is going on around you at all times. Always remember that you are in a CITY. It is easy to feel that you are immune to the dangers of the city, but when you let your guard down, you become a target. Act as you would in any city in the States; with caution. Don't be paranoid, just aware of your surroundings. By using good judgment, you will be able to relax and enjoy the fun times that your host country has to offer!
* A great travel resource for women is www.journeywoman.com. Check out this website for great tips and advice for female travelers.
Don't walk home alone at night.
Women should stick together in groups of 3 or 4, or with a male escort. Use caution when choosing this escort. Don't let a stranger walk you home or accept rides from newly met "friends." Men should also walk together in small groups, and not alone.
Drinking excessively is not a good idea while abroad for many reasons, including safety. Getting drunk in public may put you in danger and will separate you from the host culture by causing locals to avoid you, except for those who want to take advantage of you. This is not to say you can't enjoy going to a bar, club, or restaurant with friends. Just don't drink as much in an hour as the locals would drink in a whole evening!
Keep in mind that all-out drunkenness is seen as very ugly and unacceptable in many countries. Don't be intoxicated in public. Don't drink too much and expect others to take care of you; you may end up in jail. Don't leave with anyone you don't know or don't trust.
Unfortunately, pick-pocketing and theft are often directed toward unwary tourists and foreign students. Theft of small items such as radios, cameras, backpacks, purses, wallets and even cigarettes is a common problem, and often occurs in busy areas such as bus stops, bars and clubs, and even in the halls of the university. Thieves frequently attempt to distract their victims by spilling food or drinks on a person's clothing, asking for directions on the street, or by using other tactics aimed at diverting the attention from themselves or an accomplice.
It is a good idea to carry your wallet in one of your front pockets and not to carry excessive amounts of cash on you if it is not necessary. Also leave items that are extremely valuable or that may attract unwanted attention at home.
Your temporary home away from home will be full of new and different experiences, people, ideas, and places. For years to come, you will reflect back fondly on certain unique aspects of your foreign environment. Having an attitude of appreciation and openness while abroad will enhance your experience and enrich the memories you will carry with you when you return home.
Dinner with your homestay (where applicable) is just one everyday experience that will bring you into numerous intimate encounters with the host culture. First of all, you will be introduced to many unfamiliar foods, some of which you will love, while others you may not like. Don't be afraid to try exotic foods... you may be surprised at what new favorites you'll discover. Secondly, not only will the food be different, but you may also be eating at a far different time than the normal North American meal schedule! Many cultures have lunch and dinner much later than most Americans.
Another enjoyable dinner highlight may be the conversations you have with your others from your host country. Not only does this give you a chance to practice and develop your language skills, but it will also open the door for learning firsthand about your host culture, and even sharing a little about your own. Keep in mind that political or religious discussions are normally sensitive subjects, just as they are in the U.S.
Beyond just mealtime, you will have hundreds of other new experiences to appreciate your host culture: in the university, visiting other cities, traveling on the train or bus, and out on the town! When you are confronted with different foods, ideas, or people, remind yourself that you are studying abroad to experience another culture. With this in mind, it is easier to maintain the right attitude and try to appreciate the aspects of your new environment that make it special.