Office of Global Citizenship

Enhancing Your Experience

Studying abroad is a rare opportunity, and students should make the most of it. The physical and cultural distance that study abroad creates allows students to encounter new ways of thinking and reflect on their own values and habits in isolation from the expectations of theirs lives at home. In order to learn as much as possible and to grow personally while abroad, engagement and reflection are paramount. Several ways to enhance the experience while studying abroad include:

  • Keeping a journal. Photographs are wonderful ways to capture landscapes and images, but memory can be faulty. Recording thoughts on a daily basis helps to create a log with which to recall specific events and personal connections, as well as show development over time. In addition, journals encourage reflection on events, places, and persons encountered, such that students try to make sense of their varied and new experiences.
  • Explore the surroundings. Typically, students think about exploring geographically – going to new places outside of their university, neighborhood, city, or country. Such explorations are important and introduce students to the variety of persons and customs in a locale or country. Less common but just as important is to explore temporally. Walking through a neighborhood at varying times of day, students encounter different people and activities. Getting out of bed at mid-morning and returning home at night after classes might cause a student to miss morning markets, parents walking children to school, or elderly chatting over coffee and tea. Early morning walks, bicycle rides, or runs are a great way to learn what a neighborhood is like at off hours.
  • Stay abreast of local news. Reading newspapers, watching the news, and talking to local people are great ways to learn about what is happening locally and nationally.
  • Observe how the U.S. is portrayed in local news. Not only is this a fascinating way to learn about how the U.S. is perceived abroad, but it may stimulate self-reflection on how to think about the U.S.
  • Be an ambassador. Studying abroad carries responsibility, one of which is to represent Sewanee and the U.S. well. Share experiences from the U.S. or your home country without necessarily attempting to “convert people” to your way of thinking.
  • Draw comparisons. Laws, social mores, politics, artistic expression, and other aspects of the host society will differ in varying degrees from the U.S. Observe those differences and consider the cultural logic behind them. At the same time, avoid judging the local culture or looking down on it.
  • Be an anthropologist. Try to understand how the local population behaves and thinks. Observe other people and participate in local activities (but avoid political demonstrations). A good goal is to be able to correctly anticipate how a local person is likely to react to a particular set of social circumstances that they encounter.