Study Abroad: How to Get the Most Out of Your Experience

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9780130499974: Study Abroad: How to Get the Most Out of Your Experience

Via personalized exercises, this self-directed workbook guides users to fully capitalize on their study abroad experience. It offers a purposeful agenda to help travelers move from being the conventional tourist to an explorer who truly acquires an authentic view of another culture. Twenty-eight exercises invite learners to take an active role not only in their own preparation for the study abroad experience, but for their personal, academic, and professional growth—and demands from them a critical exploration of their beliefs, goals, and behaviors. The book covers personal development, learning about one's own culture, learning about another culture, professional development, and learning a language. Each strand of development is addressed at the three crucial phases of the experience: before, during and after the sojourn. For any student who has chosen to study abroad.

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From the Back Cover:

Written by a study abroad coordinator (Musky) and a faculty director from a foreign language department (Dowell), Study Abroad: How to Get the Most Out of Your Experience is designed to maximize the quality and impact of this unique experience!

Study Abroad encourages students to create a whole narrative from the fragments of the experience.

Features
  • The text promotes self-directed, guided reflection.
  • It is written in journal-style with space to write.
  • A well-articulated journey helps students address key issues throughout the pre-, during, and post- study abroad experiences.
  • Great activities focus on the same five themes during each stage of the experience to enhance continuity and growth.
  • Interesting activities are included throughout the text.
  • The completed book is a permanent record of the study abroad experience.
  • Practical appendices include Packing List, Money Matters, and Taking Care of Personal Business.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PREFACE TO THE PROGRAM ADMINISTRATOR

As a professional educator involved in a study abroad program, you probably already offer your students an orientation for their experience abroad. But if you are like us, you are often left feeling that you wish you could share so much more with your students. By the time you complete the "required" components of getting students abroad, there is often little time to devote to more advanced discussions about cross-cultural understanding, overseas adjustment, and profound personal growth.

Currently, most study abroad programs have expanded orientation sessions to include not only the do's and don'ts and other specific programmatic information but also extensive question-and-answer sessions—often with past participants being present to give the "student perspective:' We may even include cross-cultural simulation activities designed to get the students thinking about how they may feel once abroad.

But no matter how we structure the predeparture orientation, we are confronted with a set of built-in limitations. First, students are inundated with information in these sessions and often walk away overwhelmed. It's difficult to avoid the pitfall of information overload as we try to share wisdom about this upcoming event in such a limited amount of time. Second, in an attempt to prepare students for later phases of their experience, we unwittingly ask students to possess a level of understanding that will not be developed until they are in the midst of the experience abroad. And where will we be when students are ready to have these discussions? While most of us attempt to provide opportunities for students to revisit their experience on return to campus, we sense that they need a more extensive follow-up that will allow them to truly process, integrate, and build on their study abroad experience. Unfortunately, we are rarely provided with the necessary resources to do just that. Finally, because of burgeoning participation in our study abroad programs, it is increasingly difficult to personalize the orientation process and to facilitate meaningful discussions that encourage critical thinking and responsibility on the part of the student.

This is why we have written Study Abroad: How to Get the Most Out o f Your Experience. The three unique features of this book speak directly to the problems identified previously. First, its workbook format is personalized by its very nature and invites students to take an active role in their own preparation for the study abroad experience. It allows them to digest information at a pace with which they are comfortable and demands from them a critical exploration of their beliefs, goals, and behaviors. Moreover, it requires students to take responsibility for their personal, academic, and professional growth.

Second, this book joins students at each of the three crucial moments in their study abroad experience—before leaving home, while on-site, and after returning home—instead of a more traditional front-ended format that would force students to look at all phases of the experience at one time. That is, students complete exercises that are tailored to help them get the most out of the phase they are currently living.

Third, integration of this text into your existing orientation program requires little effort on your part. While this book would be ideal for a study abroad class, it can also be handed out to students to complete independently. We hope you will join us in the quest to help students move beyond the cliché of "expanding their horizons" and into a reality of globalizing their education.

PREFACE TO THE STUDENT

Having had the pleasure of studying abroad ourselves, we can honestly say that you are about to embark on a journey that has the potential to change your life. What we have found over the years is that study abroad is sometimes presented to students as an exotic experience and one that by design will surely lead to the fulfillment of "expanding their horizons.'' The idea tends to be that you will become more open-minded, independent, and adaptable. But we think it is important for you to know that mere participation in a study abroad program is very often not enough to ensure such outcomes.

Have you ever visited a new place but never left the proximity of your hotel? Or, if you left the hotel to attend a concert or visit a museum, did these experiences allow you the opportunity to learn how people there live? Unfortunately, it is very easy not to have a cross-cultural experience even though you are in a foreign country. It takes a purposeful agenda to move from being the conventional tourist to an explorer who truly acquires an authentic view of another culture.

This is why we have written Study Abroad: How to Get the Most Out o f Your Experience. As you complete this workbook, we will accompany you on your journey, asking you key questions during crucial phases of your cross-cultural development. There are no right answers—only encouragement for a critical examination of what you want to get out of this experience, what challenges and accomplishments you encounter abroad, what personal growth is taking place, and what you are doing to make all of this happen. This workbook puts you in the driver's seat of your experience and encourages you to follow the roads less traveled.

GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE TEXT

HOW THIS BOOK CAME TO BE

A few years ago, we (a study abroad coordinator and a faculty director from a foreign language department) got together to share ideas about how to improve the study abroad orientation for students going to Spain. Working closely with students studying abroad and having studied abroad ourselves, we saw great opportunity for improvement. We discovered that both of us were committed to facilitating a more effective cross-cultural experience and creating an instructional medium that other people like us could use for this purpose.

The original format was a class we designed and taught. We offered a trio of one-credit-hour courses taken at each phase of the study abroad experience: predeparture, on-site, and re-entry. As a pilot program, it was an optional experience that was in addition to our regular series of orientations for the study abroad experience. To our delight, most students chose to participate, and many of those who had gone through the program before we created the courses later expressed regret that they had not had the opportunity to participate (this after students in the courses told their friends about the kinds of activities and exercises involved).

While we were in the process of creating and piloting the courses, we held two truths simultaneously: first, that we believed that all study abroad students, regardless of program type, could benefit from this type of tailored experience and have a richer study abroad experience as a result and, second, that such special courses would be a possibility at some colleges and universities but would be seen as fiscally or otherwise impossible to implement at others. Presenting this course at NAFSA conferences, we confirmed both assumptions. Our colleagues agreed that such instruction would enhance the study abroad experience for students but also agreed that many institutions simply do not have the staff or the time to make this kind of commitment. On the basis of these realities, we changed our format, and this workbook is the result.

By integrating the basic ideas of our course into a self-directed workbook format, we saw that we could serve more students and provide a medium of instruction to a wider audience. This workbook can be integrated into study abroad programs that have a formal orientation course, or it can be used as a supplement to existing orientation programs or workshops. Furthermore, because of its workbook style, it can be used on an individual basis by students whose schools cannot offer much direction for this experience or by students who are simply committed to having a richer cross-cultural experience than their peers who do not use this text.

WORKBOOK DESIGN AND USE

The layout of our text was deliberate. We chose a workbook format because we hope that students will consider our ideas and add to them their own, thus creating for themselves a very personalized and critically examined record of their experience. Moreover, the division of the book into predeparture, on-site, and re-entry is designed to mirror the three significant phases of the endeavor, none of which should be left out. There is a time line included in the textbook that guides users to examine their journey at targeted periods, and directions at the beginning of each unit are given as to how to complete the exercises. While we feel that all the exercises will be beneficial to students, they are free to select those they find most helpful. As they complete exercises within each phase of the experience, they will be asked to reflect back to previous work. This purposeful design allows them not only to capture the thinking and feelings of one time but also to critically reflect on that period as they continue to plot their development. Exercises range from open-ended questions to information-gathering activities to student-generated professional projects. Appendix I of this text, "Implementation Tips for the Study Abroad Administrator/Faculty Director," is dedicated to helping the study abroad administrator and/or faculty director incorporate this workbook into existing orientations or classes.

We identified five distinct strands of development. They come from the foundational principles of our course and include personal development, learning about your own culture, learning about another culture, professional development, and learning another language. The order of these strands reflects our desire to focus the student's energy on the internal part of the experience (personal development) before moving on to the external parts of the experience (learning about another culture/learning another language). Thus, the placement of foreign language learning at the end of each strand should not be taken as a suggestion that it is of least importance. Its placement at the end was also a practical consideration, as we recognize that learning another language is not always part of a study abroad program.

WORKBOOK CONTENT

Let us tell you a bit more about each of the five strands chosen so that you will see why we consider each to be worthy of thought and investment. We treat them in the order in which they appear throughout the book.

Personal Development
Units in this strand walk students through the process of developing goals for the study abroad experience and assist them with identifying action plans to achieve those goals.

We assume that students who are using this text have already decided to study abroad and may have already begun to formulate general goals for the experience. For example, many students report a desire to expand their cultural horizons, to become fluent in another language, and/or to become more independent. Again, we want to stress that mere participation in a study abroad program is very often not enough to ensure such outcomes. Students will need to be very purposeful about the establishment of their goals as well as the development of specific steps in attaining them in order to find maximal success.

The on-site unit helps students examine how they feel once they are foreigners and gives them opportunities to work through any sense of culture shock they may be experiencing. The re-entry unit attempts to aid students in the often difficult moment of readjustment to their own country, school, family, and so forth and encourages them to incorporate some of the new traditions they have learned into their life at home.

Learning About Your Own Culture
Units in this strand facilitate an awareness of the impact the student's own culture has had on his or her way of thinking, behaving, and viewing the world.

Many students who are preparing to study abroad have never been to another country. It is only when they step out of their comfort zone that they begin to see it through different eyes. We hope to help students become more aware of the lens through which they have viewed the world up until now and in turn to be conscious of it as they travel abroad and then return home. Students may well be asked a variety of questions about the country they come from while abroad. For example, "Have you ever really thought about the images of the U.S. that the rest of the world receives via the U.S. media, American tourists, and U.S. foreign policies?" Many images are positive, but others can be quite negative.

We hope to encourage students to have a greater appreciation for our country while at the same time becoming more mindful of its shortcomings. Furthermore, we hope to help students focus attention on the cultural influences they take with them whenever they travel.

Learning About Another Culture
Units in this strand encourage students to intentionally seek experiences and information about their host culture. These experiences will contribute to their cross-cultural knowledge in a way that will result in a more authentic cultural understanding.

As we stated previously, one misconception about study abroad is that it necessarily leads to a cross-cultural experience. On the contrary, it is possible to continue familiar traditions, eating rituals, and social behaviors even while others around us participate differently. An "American ghetto," if you will, can provide an insular experience in which little adaptation is required. Furthermore, not only can students not experience another culture, but they can walk away from the experience having learned very little about their international hosts. For example, it is wholly possible to hold certain stereotyped beliefs before going abroad, subconsciously seek out examples in their support, and return home even more confident that these stereotypes are truths. When this happens, the individual has missed out on a fuller, more accurate understanding of the target culture and fails to contribute to international understanding by sharing this skewed perception with friends, family, and acquaintances.

We encourage students in these units to get out of their comfort zones and into the realm of cross-cultural adaptation and assimilation.

Professional Development
Units in this strand facilitate the development of a student-generated project that ties this time abroad to a future career, resulting in a tangible product that can be shared with a potential employer.

People often point to study abroad as one type of collegiate experience that will be impressive to prospective employers. But the reality is that study abroad has become so popular that merely mentioning (or including on a job résumé) that one has studied in another country does not distinguish him or her as much as it once did. Therefore, it seems to us that it is becoming all the more important for students to prove to a prospective employer that they have made the most of their experience abroad by tying it to their perceived future career. What tangible product will they be able to show this person?

For example, a political science major could research the political parties of the host country and create a presentation outlining their histories and principal differences. A business major might do a cross-cultural marketing review demonstrating how products in a ...

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