Ten Transition Tips
|Ten Transition Tips|
The following tips, like the prescription for culture shock list (Section 1.7.2), are drawn from reports of hundreds of thousands of study abroad students who have preceded you in traveling about the globe. All but a few of them had a great time and recommend that others seek such adventures. They have also made all the mistakes, seen all the consequences, and learned all the lessons that come with such an experience. When they came back, they offered valuable advice. A synopsis of the top ten suggestions they offered follows.
|Before You Go|
1. Know Your Destination!
It is impossible to learn too much about the history and current events of the country you are going to visit. US-Americans are often stereotyped as apathetic politically and uninformed internationally. Do not confirm that image. Understanding something about where you are going is guaranteed to assist you in being accepted. Knowing something about the arts and architecture of the local region, or developing an interest in it, will be greatly appreciated. Use the Internet, read the foreign press, take a history course, and checkout travel guides (the best of them will have substantial sections on history and culture).
It helps to be informed about your own country, too. You can be assured that you are going to meet many people abroad who know a great deal about U.S. government, history, economics, military policy, relations with their country, and the state of our Union. You will want to converse knowledgeably about these topics.
2. Prepare to be Understood and to Understand!
Knowing facts is important but so is understanding something about intercultural communication. What we call "communication" is a matter of much more than words. Our body language, the degree of directness or circumspection, the use of silences, and the pace and tone of our words often convey as much information as the words themselves. It is essential to be aware that each culture has its preferred mode of expression and traditional ways of conducting conversations.
It is not just what you know that is important but how you communicate. More information on this aspect of study abroad is available in earlier sections. If you go abroad with absolutely no understanding of how that culture expects to give and receive information, you are going to inevitably experience increased miscommunication and misunderstandings. This directly contributes to culture shock.
3. Learn the Language (even when its English)!
It goes without saying that you are going to have an easier time overseas if you speak at least a little of the language of the country. While functional fluency would be nice, at a minimum one should know the proper daily greetings, how to make requests, ask directions, and how to say "thank you," "please," and other verbal etiquette. It is not only polite to do so but is universally appreciated by native speakers.
Where a form of World English is spoken (from Australia to Zimbabwe these days), it is useful to be aware that in matters of colloquial usage, word choice, pronunciation and grammar, their version of English may seem to a US-American both comfortably familiar and, at times, completely unintelligible. Students have gotten into just as many embarrassing situations and unfortunate conflicts in England through the misuse or misperception of British English as they have using French in France or Tamil in Sri Lanka. Assume nothing, keep your ears open, and learn as much as you can about the language, even British English, before you go.
4. Learn Why Culture Matters!
Understanding something about how cultures work, the logic behind their behavior, and the values that inform their actions will go a long way in helping you to adjust overseas. Further, you need to understand that US-Americans possess a widely shared and deeply held "American culture," and that those dominant values are not universally shared nor appreciated. Realizing not only that cross-cultural conflict are likely to occur, but also understanding what it is about US-American values that are likely to cause such reactions, goes a long way to reduce conflict. Moreover, once you understand that cultures have a myriad of ways to solve the business of everyday living, one becomes less likely to see only one way of doing things as "right."
Once you begin looking for insider's reasons for behaving a particular way or trying to understand a situation from their perspective, it opens up new ways to interact appropriately in the new culture. The saying, "A mind once stretched never returns to its original shape," is particularly true interculturally. Once it is understood that all cultures constitute their systems differently and that there are good reasons why, the approach to a new culture is, "That抯 interesting. I wonder why they do that?" rather than, "What抯 wrong with them, why can抰 they do it the right way?" This realization alone will head off many frustrations and lead to quicker and more accurate learning of the host culture rules and the reasons behind them.
|Once You Arrive Overseas|
Get the Logistical and Practical Arrangements Settled!
Nothing is a worse beginning to a study abroad sojourn than the anxiety of where to eat, sleep, bathe, use the facility, take classes, and how to get around. So if your program does not adequately address these things, you should concentrate on getting these basic needs worked out before tackling larger issues. If possible, understand what will be involved in using local transportation (underground, buses, trolley, trains, boats, etc.). Some of these things can be done on the web (for example, excellent maps of most of the world抯 major undergrounds are available for downloading), but actually using them (purchasing tickets, rush hours, calculating fares, types of passes) may require a little practice. The same is true of using the phone system. Amazing variations in types of coins used or cards accepted can be found even within the same city. Public phones may be rare or rarely working. Part of culture learning will include mastering an often bewildering array of how to do simple things like banking, internet access, or booking travel, not to mention more serious things like obtaining medical care or contacting authorities if necessary (police, immigration control, consulate offices, etc.). Getting this information and mastering the local bus routes will allow you to relax a bit and get on with the business of being a student overseas.
What Happened and Why?
Learning from Critical Incidents!!
6. Find a Mentor!
Anthropologists going into a fieldwork setting for the first time always try and seek out a knowledgeable local person to be a 揷ultural informant.� However, not just anyone can perform this role. Almost any local person knows more about the country than a newcomer, but you should try and find someone who is willing to listen to you and talk over any problems you are encountering. If they themselves have had some experience as an international student, so much the better. Students have found that homestay parents, local teachers, classmates, and even business owners, in-country program directors, and long time foreign residents (but beware of jaded expats) can offer good advice.
In some countries, go-betweens (third parties) are often used to mediate disputes or smooth over problems, and some mentors can also fulfill that role. When you can抰 make sense of an interaction, or you don抰 know what you may have done wrong in a specific context, a mentor can be of great assistance in analyzing the situation and offering sensitive advice on how to handle or avoid such events in the future. Having a competent mentor can drastically reduce your chances of experiencing serious culture shock.
What Happened and Why?
Learning from Critical Incidents!!
7. Stay Curious!
Once you have established a daily routine abroad, it is easy to fall into comfortable patterns and become complacent. If you are experiencing adjustment problems, keeping to a narrow range of activities and a rigid schedule may make adjusting abroad more difficult. Seek out new things to do and see. Join a club. Take tours. Visit museums, art galleries, clubs, and sporting events. Often a change of scene or mini-vacation from habitual activities will give you the physical and psychological rest you need to cope with whatever difficulties you are having. Don抰 be afraid to do things you have not done before, try new foods, and explore the local art and music scenes. Keep trying to use the language even if it is difficult. Above all, don抰 be afraid to fail because nothing risked is nothing gained, especially while abroad. You are there for a limited time so try and schedule your activities wisely to avoid returning home with regrets about all the things you intended but failed to do.
8.Watch for Culture Shock!
Assuming you know about the symptoms of culture shock and can recognize them in yourself and others, the next step is monitoring your own mental and physical state. Having a bad day happens. Having a bad week or two should not! If you find that your performance in class is slipping or that you are avoiding doing things outside class (or both), if you are feeling "blue" for no specific or apparent reason and it continues for more than a few days, you might consider this a problem related to the stress of living and studying cross-culturally. If you are adapting well, but either observe or are told that others are having difficulty, you would be doing them a great service by probing further and offering non-confrontational and supportive advice about how to handle the stress they are experiencing. Like many symptoms, sometimes just putting a name on the problem makes it easier to admit and seek help to alleviate.
Keep a journal or notebook!
One of the ways to both record and recall your time abroad is to keep a daily or weekly journal. It not only allows you to have an internal dialog with yourself but also to look back upon your experiences and see the ups and downs as they happened. It can be therapeutic to express yourself openly and honestly in ways you might not want to do even with a close friend. People who do this regularly can look back and discern patterns that were not clear as they were experiencing them. Keeping a journal can be a combination event log, emotional gauge, travel account, confessor, opportunity to safely vent, and invaluable memory aid that you may only appreciate in retrospect. This kind of record might reveal important issues that are causing you stress and make you more conscious and, perhaps, willing to deal with them before they intensify.
NOTE: A great resource for a journal is 揅harting A Hero抯 Journey� by Linda Chisholm. See the selected bibliography at the end of this section.
Cultivate your sense of humor; you will need it from time to time. Realize that sometimes a negative experience is not personal but cultural. Be as non-judgmental as you can while being as open to new ideas and experiences as you dare. If you need some quiet time and privacy, take it! Be flexible, adaptable, and cheerful without abandoning your core values or compromising your sense of self. When things are not going well卻top and try to figure out why. Ask a friend or mentor for advice. Keep in touch with friends and family. Email is wonderful for that purpose, but don抰 use it, or phone calls, excessively. Don抰 be too hard on yourself when you are not perfect, but do monitor your feelings to make sure that you don抰 drift into a bad mood without realizing it.
Your overseas adventure will seem unbelievably short in retrospect. Make the most of it! Inevitably, the time comes to go home and it is a good idea to think about that well before your return flight lands at an airport on home soil. We invite you to anticipate your "reentry" in the following sections.
What Happened and Why?
Chisholm, L. (2000). Charting A Hero抯 Journey. New York: The International Partnership for Service Learning.
Kohls, L. R (1996). Survival Kit for Overseas Living (Third Edition). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Storti, C. (1990). The Art of Crossing Cultures. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.