Study abroad is a journey of self-discovery; while the first year of college may give students a sense of who they are and reinforce their sense of independence, study abroad is a litmus test of an individual’s ability to adapt and deal with new challenges that have likely not been met before (e.g., living in a foreign country; being far from home, family, and friends; communicating in a new language; eating different foods; adjusting to a new climate; etc.)
Upon first arriving, everything is new, exciting, and challenging! Students generally don’t have time to miss home and are eager to go about town with their new-found friends and classmates. With time, students settle-in to a regular rhythm – doing homework, attending classes, and going shopping, to name a few – and at one point will be struck with a terrible feeling of homesickness. This turning-point is largely dependent on each individual’s personality and character traits; there is no fixed-day, and it will happen at different times for different people. This is a normal part of the process and a reversal will take place when the student returns home (yes, students often feel homesick for their study abroad countries and usually make an effort to go back).
What about this self-discovery? The most immediate answer is that it forces students’ true selves to resurface. Having often put on a mask and tried to reinvent themselves at the start of college, students are unable to keep up the charade when thrown into a new environment; they usually end up surprising themselves more than anyone else.
This sudden feeling of being exposed forces students to grow and change; and by the end of their stay abroad, students’ personal growth is – if they have taken advantage of every opportunity – tremendous. Family and friends will feel different upon a student’s return home; one frustration of many returning students is that their loved ones continue to interact with them as they did before the students went abroad.
It takes time for change to occur; they seem to imagine that the clock stopped during the friend, son, or daughter’s time abroad that the same person who left them is now standing before them, unchanged. With time, family and friends will change with you; relationships will change. Old friendships may slip away and new ones will form with people in your new-found areas of interest – people with whom you may never have imagined yourself with before you went abroad…
Jacques E. Belval
Program Assistant, ESL Instructor