Study Abroad Handbook
Information for Bates Students Studying Abroad on the Junior Semester and Year Abroad Programs
Study abroad for a semester or year is a venture into the known and the unknown. Obvious elements that lead to rewarding experiences include thorough preparation, flexibility, patience, and the realization that even the most enjoyable ventures include unpleasant episodes.
1. Course, Course Load, and Grade Requirements. Study abroad for the year and for the semester assures you of eight or four course credits, respectively, provided that certain conditions are satisfied.
- The course load must be the normal full year or semester requirement for home-based students at your foreign university or as defined by the Off-Campus Study Committee. If the normal full load is 3 courses, students take 3. If it is 7 courses, take 7. The minimum load is not adequate for full credit. Consult the Course Load and Credit List for your university or program.
- All courses must be taken for a letter grade.
- Your courses must be appropriate to the liberal arts and sciences as defined by the Bates faculty for the fall or winter semester with one course allowed “at the margin” of the Bates curriculum. Courses may not duplicate other courses applied toward the Bates degree. You should email your course selection to Mr. Das or Dean Sawyer to confirm their suitability for general credit.
- You must take your examinations at their regularly scheduled times and location.
- At English-language universities at least half the course work must be above the first-year level.
- Credit is awarded for an internship only when pre-approved by the Off-Campus Study Office and undertaken in a setting where the language is a major at Bates (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian or Spanish) or on the Washington Semester Program. (They can be very rewarding even if not for credit)
- Students should email their course selection to Dean Sawyer or Mr. Das to confirm its suitability for general credit.
- You must earn the equivalent of a 3.00 GPA and pass all courses to receive full credit. These grades are not included in your Bates GPA.
- If studying in a non-English language setting, you must take at least one year-long (JYA) or semester-long (JSA) course in that country’s language, modern or ancient. If the language is taught as a major at Bates, a majority of the course work must be taught in that language unless an exception is granted because of the academic focus of the program.
- You must live with a family or students from the host country when these housing options are available.
- Students must arrange for an official transcript to be sent directly to the Off-Campus Study Office, Bates College.
- Finally, you need to complete an evaluation upon your return to Bates.
It is your responsibility to be certain you satisfy these requirements. If they are not achieved, partial credit is granted. No credit is granted for extra courses. The Off-Campus Study Committee at Bates makes the final decision as to the award of credit. Individual departments, programs and GEC coordinators are responsible for approving the application of courses toward major, minor and General Education Concentration requirements.
2. Course Selection Abroad
Some programs have set curricula; others and universities have a wide range of options. If in the latter category, you may want to take the descriptions of key prerequisite courses or syllabi with you to assist your foreign advisor. Other information may also be useful such as photocopies of tests and the table of contents of your texts. Students taking university level courses in the natural sciences or mathematics should be particularly careful not to enroll in advanced courses unless they are certain they have the necessary background.
Be sure to arrange for an official transcript to be sent to the Off-Campus Study Office at Bates at the conclusion of your program. It is wise to obtain detailed descriptions of courses you want to apply toward any Bates general education, minor or major requirements. Course catalog descriptions, syllabi, texts, papers, and exams are all helpful.
4. Foreign Addresses
Please provide Mrs. Palmer <firstname.lastname@example.org> with your mail address so you can receive newspapers and information regarding registration, housing, etc. Remember to complete a change of address card at the Bates Post Office with your home address before you leave.
5. Payments and Financial Aid.
The Bates Off-Campus Study Registration Fee is 7% of the Bates comprehensive fee, and is $2260 for each semester in 2016-2017. In most cases, all other payments are directly between your family and your study abroad institution/program. If you receive financial aid, we will calculate your “cost of attendance” and send this calculation to the Financial Aid Office. The Financial Aid Office will then re-calculate your award based upon this information. Ms. Heidi Gagnon <email@example.com> is the contact person for study abroad questions in Student Financial Services.
6. Health Precautions.
If you travel outside Western Europe, you may be exposed to tropical diseases, lower levels of sanitation, and less sophisticated medical care. Contaminated food and water are potential threats wherever you are. When the safety of drinking water is in doubt, take no chances — boil it, disinfect it, or avoid it by drinking coffee, tea, bottled water, or other “processed” liquids such as wine or soda. Remember that if the cleanliness of the water is in doubt, then the ice and glasses are too. The risks of food contamination are lowest for processed foods and meals served in private homes and highest for raw foods served by street vendors. Practice the maxim “Cook it, peel it, or leave it” for fruits and vegetables. Meats should be recently and thoroughly cooked. When you get diarrhea, and you will, be sure to drink more (safe) liquids. Dehydration is a very serious problem, especially in warm climates. Seek medical attention if the diarrhea does not clear up in a few days.
This is general advice. You may have specific medical conditions that you should discuss in detail with your physician. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control maintain web pages specifically for travel abroad and an “International Travelers Hotline” (404-332-4559). The World Health Organization also has a web page with more specific information. The Bates College Health Center has additional information on immunizations and other advice.
The HIV virus is a deadly threat around the world, particularly in Africa south of the Sahara. Be extra careful whatever the situation — in sexual relations, in contact with needles, in any blood contact situation.
Students dealing with emotional problems or psychological instability need to recognize that studying abroad generates a whole new array of pressures, anxieties, and insecurities that can be very destabilizing. This problem is aggravated by the lack of psychological support systems abroad, including the absence of psychological counselors in most countries. As a result, students experiencing such problems should evaluate very carefully and discuss with their counselor whether study abroad is appropriate for them at this time in their lives. It is essential that you inform your program in advance of any physical or mental health issues.
7. Health Insurance.
It is absolutely essential that you have comprehensive health insurance while abroad. Ask your family to obtain written confirmation that your health insurance policy provides coverage in your country. The Bates insurance that many families subscribe to provides such coverage. If you have questions about coverage, please call Ms. Doris Ducharme, the insurance specialist in the Bates Health Center (207-786-6199) or consult the Cross Insurance Company web pages for Bates (Click on “College Health”). Several companies specialize in student insurance abroad, including CMI Insurance Worldwide, Cultural Insurance Services International and HTH Worldwide. Take your policy number and the company’s address, regular telephone number, etc. with you. (800, 888, and other toll-free numbers do not work from overseas.) You will need to pay upfront for all medical services received while abroad and then submit a claim for reimbursement.
Emergency Assistance. Many programs include an emergency assistance policy which provides emergency medical advice, assistance and, if needed,evacuation to better medical facilities. You should establish whether or not you are covered by such a policy and, if you are, put the key contact information into your cell phone. If your program does not provide emergency assistance, you should use the policy below.
- All Bates students are covered by ACE/Europ Assistance. The Europ Assistance emergency center is open 24/7. If calling from the United States, the number is: 1-800-243-6124. If calling from abroad, call collect if needed: +1-202-659-7803. The Bates plan number is: 01-SP-585.
- Please note that this emergency medical assistance does not eliminate the need for regular health insurance.
8. Safety and Travel Precautions.
As an American, you are a potential target for political attack and robbery. This is true even if you oppose current U.S. policies and do not consider yourself wealthy. Obviously, it is your responsibility to act in ways that minimize your risks. Common sense precautions are to:
- Pay special attention to the security advice provided in the orientation program presented by your university or program abroad. Accept your ignorance and potential vulnerability and follow this advice.
- Keep a low profile in demeanor and dress by observing local customs and laws.
- Avoid clothes with U.S. logos, college seals, and the like.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Do not bury yourself in your phone when in public..
- Speak the local language whenever possible.
- Use an “under-your-clothes” money pouch and be discreet with it — do not pull out wads of cash in public places. Men should not carry wallets in back pockets.
- Never leave your bags, backpack, phone or laptop unattended. Five seconds is all it takes to lose it.
- Carry some cash in reserve while traveling – tape money in your backpack.
- In some settings, illegal taxis prey on foreigners. It is better to call for a taxi in these cases.
- Photocopy your passport, credit cards and plane tickets and keep them separate from the originals. You can scan these items and store them on a flash drive or in an email to yourself.
- Remember the 1+1=4 safety arithmetic. (being with one other person when socializing, traveling, walking etc. is four times safer than being alone).
- If you do travel solo, leave your itinerary with a friend or program staff
- In a hotel, do not accept a room on the first floor; check all the locks right away.
- Follow the same precautions that you would traveling in the U.S., e.g. do not enter an empty train, bus, or dark street at night, cover your name tags, check the adequacy of your money before going out, be discreet with your money, camera, other valuables, check your surroundings as you walk.
- When necessary, spend the extra money if that helps avoid a threatening situation.
- Do not agree to carry, look after, or take other responsibility for, any package or suitcase for a stranger or “new friend.” It could contain contraband or explosives. Similarly, do not drive someone else’s car across a national border.
- Avoid, whenever possible, American “hangouts,” American embassies, controversial discussion in public places, demonstrations, protests and marches, military related areas, and areas of religious controversy.
- Recognize that road accidents are the greatest cause of death and serious injury for U.S. travelers abroad. Fatalities caused by cars, buses, motorcycles are up to 40 times higher in some countries. Bicyclists and pedestrians are especially vulnerable. Always assume that cars have the right of way over people, especially at crosswalks.
- Do not make yourself vulnerable through excessive alcohol consumption — in any context.
- Trust and follow your instincts. If you sense a situation or person is unsafe, it, he, or she probably is.
Additional safety information is available at the Center for Global Education.
Travel Advisories. We encourage you to enroll online in the “Smart Traveler” program run by the U.S. State Department which provides travel advice and updates. You can also find Consular Information Sheets and Travel warnings at <http://travel.state.gov/> or by calling in the United States 202-647-5225.
Hitchhiking. Hitchhiking is not recommended. However, if you decide to hitch-hike, recognize that the risks are greatly magnified in urban settings and never do so alone. Keep your backpack with you rather than placed in the trunk. If you find yourself uncomfortable, request the driver to stop so you may use the bathroom as you approach a gas station or other visible spot. Once out of the car, report that you have decided to rest there for a while. Follow your instincts!
Heightened Hazards for Women. Risks are magnified for women. To quote a woman who studied in India: “Please, please go! You will never have the opportunity again. As a woman, I was not prepared by anyone. Women are property; if you are not with a man, you are free game; every woman was harassed. Be prepared to deal with these facts.” Another woman warns: “Italian men are very forward – I was hassled at times.” A woman who studied in France reports, “We were frequently harassed and could never walk anywhere alone.” Similar warnings come from South America. It is not fair, but this is the reality that has to be dealt with. Marriage proposals are not uncommon, particularly in developing countries. Sexual expectations generated by U.S. soap operas and cheap movies make the situation worse in many countries. Former participants recommend conservative dress, knowledge of how to handle taunting, and yelling “fire” if in serious danger. American men should also be aware of these risks and provide assistance and support. Please consult our web page for more information.
Recent research indicates that women are subject to higher rates of sexual assault when studying abroad. The reasons range from ignorance of where it is unsafe to walk to the sexual expectations generated by U.S. television shows to being a target of opportunity without the informal protection systems that exist for host-country women. This increases still further the importance of caution and following the safety advice provided by your program or university.
If you experience a sexual assault:
- Turn first to the support and resources provided by your program or host university. They have an existing support system, know the local context, and can act quickly to help you. The International Office at your university can help connect you with their counseling center, health center, sexual assault crisis center, campus and local police, and other resources.
- Bates has Title IX Officers who are responsible for responding to incidents of sexual discrimination and assault. Ms. Gwen Lexow (firstname.lastname@example.org +1-207-786-6445) is the Title IX Officer and Dean Erin Foster Zsiga (email@example.com, +1-207-786-6215) is the Deputy Coordinator for Students. You may contact them for additional support or if you feel the local resources are not meeting your needs or for any other reason.
Heightened Hazards for Men Men are often less careful about their behavior, assuming that gender and size reduce their risks. In many situations, they do, but single men, no matter how muscular, are easy targets for armed criminals in search of prey at night. The safety precautions presented during the on-site orientation and here apply to everyone!
We implore you to stay away from illegal drugs at all times and to avoid “drug scenes” and possible dealers. Most countries have much stiffer drug laws than the U.S. If arrested, you are not covered by U.S. laws and constitutional rights. Foreign drug laws frequently make no distinction between soft and hard drugs. Bail is not granted in most countries in drug-trafficking cases. In many countries you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Foreign jails are no nicer, physically or socially, than ours. The risks are just not worth it.
10. Gender, Ethnicity, Race, and Sexual Orientation.
These traits are perceived differently and in turn receive very different treatment around the world. The overall pattern is for the white privilege and male privilege patterns of the United States to be even more pronounced abroad. Despite the diversity of the United States, the dominant assumption is that Americans are white, Christian, of European descent, and heterosexual. Students outside this stereotype should expect to have to cope with instances of covert and overt discrimination. Similarly, women will likely experience some gender biases and cultural expectations that are offensive and restricting. Students may find it helpful to talk with past participants with similar backgrounds about their treatment and responses and to consult resources found here.
11. Passport, Visas, and Other Entry Items.
Passport application forms are available in our office, from the main Post Office in most towns, including Lewiston, or on the State Department Web page. If you have a passport, check to be sure it will remain valid for at least six months beyond the end of your time abroad. Student visas, when required, are obtained from each country’s US consulate or embassy and require the submission of your passport. Information on visa requirements for U.S. citizens and consulate addresses are available at http://www.bates.edu/offcampus/before/passport-visa/ . Visa often entail personal visits to consulates and have long lead times, so please plan accordingly. Countries in Western Europe do not require visas for brief tourist travel. If your program or university requests one, we can provide you with an “Official Letter” which identifies you as a Bates student for immigration and legal purposes.
Non-U.S. citizens are often subject to stricter visa requirements. For more information, you should contact the embassies of the countries where you will be studying, transiting through, and visiting during your time abroad. On-line information is available at: <http://www.embassy.org/embassies>.
12. Travel Information.
Early planning and comparison shopping are key. There are many on-line ticket services — sometimes they offer the lowest prices, sometimes they don’t. Dube Travel (784-3376 or toll free 888-598-3823), 250 Center Street, Auburn, is a local source for airline tickets. STA Travel (800-777-0112) specializes in student fares and needs, with over 300 offices around the world, including the United States. The STA Travel “Book Now, Pay Later” program allows you to book a ticket immediately with a deposit of $300. In general, we recommend taking your program’s group flight (if one is available) as it simplifies many logistical issues. Discount airlines and bus travel are often less expensive and more convenient than rail travel. Note that some discount travel options are available only if purchased in the United States. Free maps and related information are generally available from embassies and tourist authorities. General travel information is available on our web site. A review of the metric system will decrease confusion about distances, recipes, etc. Country specific information is available on our web site.
International Student Identification Card. This is generally recommended since it provides emergency evacuation, travel and accident insurance, access to discount air and rail fares, proof of student status for lower admission fees, and the like. The cards cost $22.00 and are available through the Bates Bookstore.
Youth Hostel Membership. Membership provides access to over 5,000 hostels throughout the world. These are very inexpensive and great places to meet people. The travel agencies mentioned above have information or Hostelling International. You can make online hostel reservations at Hostelworld for a small fee.
13. Language Skills.
You can brush up on language skills or get a head start on your new language with the Mango language program. You can access the program from the Bates Library online catalog — type “mango languages” into the Search box. The Mango program has more than 30 languages.
Money management abroad is generally more challenging because there are more opportunities to spend and because you are not used to the currency. It is wise to practice using the currency before so you can better gauge its value and then to itemize your expenditures in the first few weeks to assess the flow rate. Currency information and values are available at: the XE and Travalang web sites. It is helpful to have $50-100 in local currency if you arrive on a holiday or outside of normal working hours. (This can be obtained before departure in most international airports.) Take an additional $200-$400 in cash to convert once in country. A major credit card and a debit card with a PIN number are essential. If your location has few ATM machines, you should obtain some travelers checks. You can locate ATMs that accept Visa and Mastercard worldwide. You can download apps that allow you to do the same. (Credit and Bank debit cards often provide the best exchange rate; try to get cards that do not charge a high transaction fee when you obtain cash.) The debit card also allows your family to add to your account while you are away. (Before you leave, test your credit card and debit card). Notify your bank and your credit card company when and where you’ll be studying abroad; otherwise you will not be able to use your cards while abroad. Some JYA students open a checking account. Many banks and Western Union can wire money to most countries within minutes. (Cashing checks drawn on US banks is often delayed by multi-week holding periods.) Finally, ask host country students how they save money.
15. What To Take.
Most past students report they took far too much with them. A large backpack, a money pouch (a mini-backpack that is worn around the waist) and a money/passport holder that is worn under your clothes, sturdy sneakers, a major credit card, addresses of friends and relatives, a compact language dictionary, extra glasses, photos of your family, anti-diarrhea medicine, frequently taken and prescription medications (including prescriptions for more), and teeth in perfect condition are generally recommended. Dress clothing and electrical goods are not. The more you buy locally, the more likely you are to blend in. A laptop computer can be a big help if local computing facilities are inconvenient, but this varies according to your situation.
“I am from Minnesota and I’ve never been so cold as I was during my semester in Chile.” Even in climates warmer than Maine, the study abroad experience can be bone chilling in the winter months because many settings do not have central heating and often little or no space heating. Efficient long underwear, both tops and bottoms, is recommended as is the layering of clothing. For hot climates, think 100% cotton.
16. Parental Care.
You have probably discovered that study abroad generates its own set of parental anxieties and concerns. Your program or university has probably already sent her, him or them a bill and may provide information specific to your experience. Parents may consult the general health and safety guidelines established by study abroad professionals (noted in #8 above). More general advice is provide here.
- Discuss the “Study Abroad Handbook” with your family, particularly this section and the section on ethnocentrism and culture shock.
- Leave copies of the program brochure/university catalog at home so addresses, courses, schedule, and similar information are available.
- Leave a photocopy of your passport, airplane ticket, debit and credit cards with your family just in case they need to be replaced or other problems arise.
- Discuss the need to sign legal documents, such as income tax forms, in advance of your departure. Discuss the need for a “power of attorney” which authorizes your parents to sign documents such as loan and tax forms and have access to your records.
- Tell your family not to expect a call the first day you arrive and then call them anyway. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of people fly safely every day. A 30 second call is all that is needed.
- Send home ASAP your addresses, telephone number, fax, e-mail, etc., and those of the program director/international programs office. (The latter to use only in case of emergency, of course.)
- Similarly, be sure to provide them with the dates of any extended travel plans.
- When problems arise, always try to solve them on-site. There is little that parents can do that you can’t do more effectively. If you discuss a problem with parents, inform them quickly when the problem is resolved. It is not fair to leave them fretting back home.
- Care packages and mail orders can be problematic no matter how well intended. Find out what is needed to avoid high customs duties.
- Visits from parents are generally lots of fun when scheduled during vacations and awkward after the first several hours if scheduled while the program/university is in session. Please urge any visitors to plan accordingly.
- Be sure to contact your home if a major event (bomb, railway accident) occurs that is likely to be reported in the U.S. media. This is similar to the call on your first day — statistically unnecessary, emotionally much appreciated.
- Establish a communication plan with an emphasis on email, letters and postcards; international telephone calls add up quickly. It is generally much less expensive when calls originate in the United States, using an international calling plan available from ATT, MCI, etc.
17. Staying Connected
Your Bates e-mail account remains active and can be accessed through <http://email.bates.edu>. This system enables you to access your account from many different computers. Passwords are changed online each fall. If you have difficulty accessing your Bates account while off campus, e-mail the Help Desk <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Since you will not receive “Announce” or “Junior” messages while abroad, you may want to ask a friend on-campus to forward any relevant messages.
While abroad most students use a cell or mobile phone, either an existing phone adapted for use abroad or a phone purchased upon arrival. Your cell phone provider can determine whether or not your phone can be adapted for use abroad. PicCell Wireless rents phones for international use and, where possible, sells SIM cards to adapt phones. Fees for international calls are often not logical so be sure that you understand how they work. You can also install Skype on your and your family’s computers so as to talk via the internet. More information is available at: <http://skype.com>.
Past study abroad students report that excessive internet use undermines the language immersion experience and distracts from the study abroad experience. Electronic connection may ease the transition abroad, allow you to keep up with friends and provide opportunities for sharing your experience. However they can also distract you from making more and deeper connections in your study abroad setting. It is a delicate balance that requires some attention.
18. Registration and Housing at Bates.
The Catalog and registration information are available on-line at <http://www.bates.edu/registrar/registration/>. Because you are off campus, the “advisor’s hold” is removed for you. Nevertheless you should consult with your faculty advisor throughout this process. You will need to check in with your advisor upon your return to campus to report on your time away and to confirm the wisdom of your course selection.
If abroad in the Fall, the Housing Office will work with you to find a bed for Winter semester. The actual placements cannot be made until mid-December when the location of beds that are opening up for the winter is known. The Housing Office has web pages for students returning in Winter semester: <http://www.bates.edu/housing/winter-semester-room-selection/>
If abroad in the Winter, you should ask a friend to select a room for you based on your lottery number. Feel free to contact the Housing Office at Bates, before you leave or from abroad: 207-786-6215 or email@example.com. You will need to fill out the paperwork for your room when you return to campus.
19. Contacting Bates.
International mail generally takes a week to reach Lewiston. Our office fax number is (+1) 207-786-8331 and receives material 24 hours a day. (Faxes can be forwarded to anyone on campus from this site.) Our office telephone number is (+1) 207-786-6223. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Dean Sawyer’s home number is (+1) 207-783-6549.
20. Keep a Journal/Scrapbook.
A journal is a wonderful way to record experiences and reactions as well as to help keep track of expenditures. A journal/scrapbook is even better with mementos and postcards. In addition to enriching memories, it can be a safe haven amidst the tumult of life, study, and travel abroad. You can also create a 21st century scrapbook — i.e. a blog — at WordPress.
Good luck – study hard and enjoy!
TWO COMMON STUDY ABROAD ILLNESSES, SYMPTOMS, AND CURES
Characteristically, preparation for study abroad involves a rush of last minute logistical details (passports, what to take, how much money is enough, etc.,) trips to the dentist, and shots in the arm. Amidst the rush, inadequate time is allocated to prepare for two afflictions that are to some extent always contracted during a semester or year abroad. Advance knowledge of these illnesses, their symptoms, and cures is helpful since they are inevitable and, in some cases, severely debilitating. Consider the next few pages as preventive medicine for conditions which are more common and often as painful as those for which one receives immunizations and prescriptions.
As you know, every society operates with a culture, a set of learned values that determine what we eat, how we behave in different situations, what we expect of others, what our houses look like, etc. Biology provides a body that grows and has certain needs and capabilities; culture is its set of operating rules. Initially, people assume that everyone has the same culture. Later as we become aware of the tremendous diversity of the world, we tend to assume our culture is the one that makes the most sense despite some imperfections.
People become aware of their culture as never before when away from it. When ways of doing things differ from what is expected in American culture, the automatic instinct is to assume that the approach one has learned since birth is more appropriate. The technical term for this is ethnocentrism. It is a natural reaction. Ethnocentrism is at work when Kenyans visit the United States and think it wrong that American men never hold hands. It is at work when Italians think it unfriendly when simple handshakes are used to welcome friends rather than many kisses. Similarly, it is at work when American students grow impatient with slow, drawnout discussions that don’t seem to get to the point and seem more playful interaction than decision making. These students, after all, have grown up in a culture that emphasizes rapid decision making, majority rule, personal initiative, and the separation of work and play.
Americans are more vulnerable to enthnocentrism because so many aspects of our culture have, at least superficially, extend around the globe. I tends to increase with the “cultural distance” from American culture. It is generally less severe in England; more severe in Thailand. As noted above, it is a natural response; it is a problem only if it becomes excessive. The symptoms of excessive ethnocentrism include continued impatience with the ways of the host country, stereotyping people as “dumb …,” a lack of interest in understanding how the new behaviors might be a reasonable alternative, and a desire to always seek out other Americans rather than with individuals from the host country.
Fortunately, cures are available. One is time; time to understand the basis for the differences, time to feel at ease in your new environment. Another cure involves faith, faith that millions of people would not live their lives in a certain way unless it involved some logic and enjoyment. Another cure requires not being overly influenced by cleanliness, material possessions, speed and technology, four traits highly valued in American culture. Other cultures have other, equally legitimate priorities such as family integrity and community ties. Another cure is to actively ask people about their country. For example, what is its school system, political history, current government; what are its dating customs, religious groups, principal minorities, economic conditions, sub-regions?
It is helpful to remember that the move from one cultural environment to another is similar to the transition from the beach to the water when swimming. When the water is warm and calm, the transition is gentle; when it is rough and frigid, the transition is more difficult. Whatever the conditions, the fact is that a different set of operating rules is required to survive in the new environment. As you know, when swimming emotions can range from delight, relaxation, and invigoration to exhaustion and a desire to retreat to the familiar solid ground of the beach. These same emotions accompany study abroad.
The term “culture shock” refers to the disorientation that occurs when one moves into another culture. As with ethnocentrism, some culture shock is inevitable. Nevertheless, it is helpful to be aware of the symptoms and to know that your changing emotions are normal. Researchers have found that most people go through a rather predictable sequence of emotional stages when they move abroad.
The first or “honeymoon” stage starts before departure. It is characterized by excitement, emphasis on the tourist aspects of study abroad, and a little apprehension about logistical issues. This stage continues into the first weeks after arrival. This is followed by the “cultural shock” stage in which the constant stress of adapting to a new culture, the loss of a familiar environment including the absence of family and friends, and the constant uncertainty of just plain “not knowing” things begins to wear people down. This discouragement is aggravated when students find that the responses to their efforts to communicate in a foreign language are blank stares of incomprehension. Symptoms of this stage include homesickness, wondering whether you made the right decision to study abroad, making disparaging remarks about things and people of the host country, and loneliness. Each of these reactions can range from mild to extreme.
This low period is generally followed by an “adjustment” stage in which people gradually learn the proper way of doing things, become more comfortable managing in their new environment, build new friendships, and the like. One can be at ease talking with people from the host country; one can go shopping without feeling as if he or she had just stepped off the plane; one can finally relax. This process is greatly facilitated by improving language skills and confidence. Needless to say, one’s emotional well being greatly improves during this stage. If adequate time exists, this stage evolves into a final one called “adaptation.” In adaptation, people move from knowing how to behave to automatically behaving in that manner. One becomes comfortable and relaxed, unconsciously acting as expected in the foreign culture. This can be the most rewarding period of the study abroad experience.
Some culture shock is inevitable. The surest cure is time and patience. It is also helpful to remember that the symptoms typical of the second stage (disappointment, depression, hostility, etc.) are not unique to you. Obviously, the goal is to accelerate through this stage as rapidly as possible. This is facilitated by several of the cures listed for ethnocentrism including faith that some logic underlies the host country’s differences and a conscious effort to learn more about the country. Once again, active investigation of the questions posed in the ethnocentrism section is a great help. A final cure is to realize that initial, “honeymoon” expectations tend to be unrealistically high.
Conclusion. Ethnocentrism and culture shock are products of change and stress. Tens of thousands of people overcome them every year. The fact that you successfully managed the transition to college and have been enterprising enough to study abroad suggests you will too. Keep smiling, laugh at your mistakes, enjoy the rich diversity of the world, and you certainly will.
GO INFORMED and then GET ENGAGED
Again and again the Bates students who have the most rewarding and memorable experiences abroad are the individuals who get the most involved with host-country students and families. It is not the students who travel the most, who attend the most prestigious institutions, who purchase the largest collection of memorabilia, or who take the most photographs.
Upon arrival in a foreign country, you are likely to be exhausted, lonely, excited and overwhelmed – especially if you have just landed in a non-English speaking country. One’s immediate instinct is to associate with other English speaking students, in particular other Americans. This provides a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and security. After all, Americans abroad immediately have a culture and language in common. But, the study abroad experience is not all about comfort. If you wanted comfort, a sense of belonging, and “the known,” you would never have left the cozy “Bates Bubble.”
To promote interaction, the first thing to do is to “go informed” about your country’s social issues, key cultural values, recent history, economic issues, regional concerns, climate and current events. Pretend that you have to write a paper on these topics in order to get on the airplane and develop an outline with these seven categories (or add more), and then informally answer the questions. This exercise will put you at greater ease upon arrival, will distinguish you from more superficial visitors, will help speed you through culture shock and minimize ethnocentricity, and provide more confidence when interacting with individuals from the country.
When you get where you’re going – – Get Out There! Get Engaged! Explore your new environment. To the degree that it is safe to do so, walk around by yourself. Don’t think of walks around your new home and university as lonely trudges through a foreign and hostile city. Consider these times as opportunities to observe the subtleties of your new setting and to meet people from your host country. In non-English speaking countries, these times are a perfect opportunity to develop your language skills. Practice your language everywhere, in shops, pubs, museums, grocery stores, even at the bus stations. Spend an hour each evening at the dinner table with your host family, sit alone at a cafe and talk to whomever is near you. Take the initiative and get involved.
By exploring your new surroundings alone, you will acquire a sense of independence, a boost in your confidence, and eventually feel as if you belong in your new, if somewhat temporary, home. Above all, keep in mind that you’re more apt to meet people from your host country if you are not a part of “TEAM USA.” At its worst, this is a horde of Americans who have little in common but their sense of displacement and nationality. It is not always easy or safe to interact with your adopted world without a support system. However, the more you can, the more you will get out of the experience.
Finally, to facilitate continuing friendships abroad, never criticize anything about your host country or institution – even if the people you are with do so. As citizens, they have the right to criticize. You, on the other hand, are an outsider, visitor, and guest. You can observe differences, but try not to be judgmental. (“We have much better email facilities, food, etc. at Bates.”) This is somewhat similar to someone criticizing a member of your family. Such comments are resented even when accurate.
Amanda Barney – JYA Edinburgh, Johnna Gravas – JYA France, Stephen Sawyer – Peace Corps, Micronesia
Bates Career Development Center
146 Wood Street. Lewiston, ME 04240
Email: email@example.com Phone: +1-207-786-6232; Fax +1-207-786-6126.
Greetings from the Bates Career Development Center!
There are many good reasons to keep career planning in mind as you prepare for off-campus study. Plan strategically before and during your experience abroad to secure valuable opportunities that may serve you well in the future:
- Plan ahead! Meet with a career counselor before you leave to polish your resume, review networking strategies, collect helpful resources to take with you, etc. Please be aware that some employers may choose not to interview you because you are not in residence, so it is essential to plan accordingly.
- Check the BCDC website regularly to track career development news and the latest job and internship postings in the BCDC Bulletin; search Handshake, our web-based recruiting site, for continued access to a wide array of resources; be sure to look out for announcements regarding Bates specific opportunities through the Career Discovery Internship Program and the Ladd Internship Program.
- Learn how to use the Bates Online Community database to identify Bates alumni and parents who live in the country where you plan to study; in addition to providing career advice and resources, these valuable contacts also often assume the role of extended family and enjoy hearing about the latest campus news.
- Request letters of recommendation from professors to support your candidacy for graduate school or employment while you are still enrolled in the program of study; Interfolio is an ideal way to collect, store and deliver your most important documents.
- Consider seeking an internship, employment, or volunteer opportunity while abroad; consult the career or employment center at your host school as it may offer valuable resources and contacts.
- Your time abroad may afford you a chance to explore the possibility of foreign graduate study; determine the application requirements, deadlines, and contacts at your host institution.
- Keep in touch with BCDC while abroad; we are happy to help with questions at any point.
We hope that you find these resources helpful as you embark on your adventures; please be sure to let us know how we may assist you. We wish you best of luck and great success.
—The Bates Career Development Center Staff