From the art districts of Paris to the Asian allure of Osaka, Japan, the GW Study Abroad programs offer students a wide variety of countries to visit and programs in which to participate. Those who have tried it said studying on foreign soil gives students an opportunity to sample diverse cultures and provides for unforgettable learning experiences.
Participants said preparation is key to a successful educational journey. Larissa Davis, a GW student who just returned from studying in Freiburg, Germany, suggests students develop a clear picture of what they hope to accomplish abroad.
(Figure) out what you want to get out of study abroad the most and then find a program that’s going to let you do that, she said. If you really want to work on your language, take a program that has all the classes in the language that you’re studying. If you really want to travel, pick one that has some traveling built into it. Know what you want to get out of it, and if you don’t know, take the one that sounds most interesting.
The next step is to attend a general information session held Tuesdays and Fridays every week by GW’s Office for Study Abroad. These sessions further familiarize students with the range of programs and give students the opportunity to talk with peer advisers and ask questions to satisfy any concerns.
During the sessions students learn, with more specific details, the differences between GW and non-GW affiliated programs and application deadlines. Handouts are given to further understanding of the programs. After the meeting students can browse through the study abroad office library of resources to find countries, schools and programs that interest them.
After the general session, a second advising session must be attended after the selection of, application to or acceptance to a program. Attending meetings and being on time with applications is very important to ensure that students get into the programs they want, said Study Abroad advisers.
The Office for Study Abroad in Building AJ encourages students to search and seek help in finding the perfect program suitable to their needs. Advisers and peer advisers, who have all been on travel-abroad programs, have plenty of advice and suggestions to share. Kendra Su, an adviser, recommends studying abroad for the cultural immersion it provides.
You learn a lot of the foreign language and meet a lot of different people, she said.
She said everyone she knows who has studied abroad has had a wonderful time.
Peer advisers Myllisa Lardieri and Megan Mowday both agree.
When you come back, you save every penny just to go back, said Mowday, who just returned from Prague in the Czech Republic. Lardieri, who went to France for a semester her sophomore year, said that she always wanted to go abroad. Junior Mindy Miner, who went to Kenya, said, If I had the money, I’d go back tomorrow.
Advisers suggest several tips to make studying abroad more worthwhile. Kendra Su recommends students research the country and culture they will be visiting well before they sign up for a program to help familiarize students with the way of life. Culture shock is a major aspect in study-abroad programs, and an open mind will help students adjust, peer advisers said.
Lardieri said even in western cultures there were a lot of differences from United States culture. She said it is important to adjust to how the citizens in other countries live and to adapt constantly. For example, Miner learned that Americans were popular in Africa, while Lardieri, Mowday and Davis found that Europeeans tended to harbor certain stereotypes about Americans.
Davis pointed out that cultural sensitivity is an important factor to keep in mind.
It’s really easy when you first get there to become frustrated with what is going on, like you don’t understand the way their culture works, or there are little things that are different (from American culture).
The peer advisers also recommend that students going on these trips learn as much about the United States as possible, because curious locals will ask many questions.
Bring pictures and presents, Lardieri said. She said the French people she met were interested in the American magazines and books she had brought. Mowday said her host family was amazed at her contact lenses and always asked to watch while she took them out at night.
Davis said it is also important to be aware of the stereotypes that follow an American culture. Every culture abroad has very strong stereotypes about Americans, and if you do anything that falls within those stereotypes, they assume that you fit into that.
The peer advisers recommend making as many local friends as possible.
Many students regret having spoken too much English, Su said. The students suggest not hanging out with too many Americans. Mowday says to be willing to take chances. Don’t be scared of new experiences.