In an article written by E. David Wong and published in Frontiers, The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad (Volume XXVI, Fall ’15), discussion was active about wether the expectations of Study Abroad students were maybe too high, what lead to dissapointment and frustration on their side.

I want to bring that debate back to talk about the importance of helping our students have real expectations and how to fulfil them.

When I asked USA students in Spain about their expectations, four mayor ones appeared:

  • Learning/improving Spanish
  • Make new friends
  • Get more Independence/autonomy
  • Learn more about other cultures/countries

These four match  what other authors have described before (see Li, Olson & Frieze, 2013, Wong, 2015 and Akkerman & Baker, 2011). But at the same time that these expectations match the students’ final outcomes:

  • Improving the language
  • Gaining more Independence
  • Making Spanish friends
  • Improve cultural aspects

They also become their main challenges:

  • Improving the language
  • Cultural differences
  • Feeliong homesick
  • Making new friends


We should then be optimistic to see that students, in general terms, fulfil their expectations. But what happens if we ask the local (Spanish in this case) Study Abroad professionals that have worked with these students throughout the semester? Their answers regarding students’ outcomes difer a bit. Professionals (teachers and administrators) do not identify the same expectations that students listed; on the contrary, they perceive that the students’ main goal is to have fun. As they see it, students do not have clear expectations and loose time, specially at the beginning, trying to figure out what to get from their experience.

Students also reported not to have received a “specific” pre-orientation at their home universities, what, as they said, didn’t help them have clear expectations. They had received very useful information on the necessary Visa, health insurance, travel options, but not on what they could expect to find when they arrived in Spain. Is this something that needs to be fixed? Maybe, but i think, however, that expectations are unique to one and every student. We can not promise their fulfilment, but maybe we can help students be more accurate on what to expect.

And how can we do that? Giving them objective information on the place they are visiting; lowering their level of excitement to that of an academic (not leisure) activity; helping them get more knowledge on the host country by themselves, through guided research; making them ask themselves “Why do I want to go?, What am I going to do to get the most of this experience? How far can I get?”. The same way expectations are individual, their fulfilment depends also on each student, we just need to make them be aware of that.

Akerman, S. & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects. Review of Educational Research, 81 (2), 132–169.

Li, M., Olson, J. & Frieze, I. (2013). Students’ Study Abroad plans: the influence of motivation and personality factors. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 23, 73-85.

Wong, D. (2015). Beyond “it was great”? Not so fast!. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 26, 121-135.