Over three years, I have been conducting a research on Study Abroad American students’ expectations, successes and challenges during their time in Spain. Apart from being around the same age, same country (with some exceptions) and sharing the same language, these students do not necessarily have much in common. And that’s fine. Because actually, the success of a community of learning, such as a Study Abroad program, lies on the fact that all participants have a common interest and goal. [i]
Do our students have this in common? It is a general perception in local Faculty and administrators of these programs in Spain that some students come with no clear idea of what to expect.
The first days are hard, as we saw when we talked about Culture Shock, and for some of them, the feeling of being lost is a travel buddy that doesn’t let them get the most of their experience.
In general terms, these students’ expectations are:
- Have fun
- Travel and make friends
- Take a break from “real” work
- Gain more independence and self confidence [ii]
And one may think… What about learning Spanish? Shouldn’t it be the main motivation? Well yes, our own research places the improvement of this foreign language as one of the main goals, but also, students asked have listed other ones:
- Make Spanish friends
- Learn more about themselves and become more independent
- Learn about other cultures and countries
My research collected answers from over 150 students that came to Seville for a semester. Some interesting conclusions are made after reviewing their answers:
- 97% acquired a different perspective about International affairs
- 92’9% gained sensitivity towards other cultures
- 95,2% gained a different perspective about their own culture
- 96% learnt more about themselves
- 98% acquired Intercultural Competence
- 90% made friends they wouldn’t have made at home
- 79’7% got integrated into the new culture
When asked about their main challenges, these were their answers:
- The new language (Spanish)
- Cultural differences
- Feeling homesick
- Making local friends
Opposed to this, their main achievements were:
- Improve their Intercultural Competence
- Gain independence and autonomy
- Learn Spanish
- Make local friends
[i] Roth, W-M. & Lee, Y-J. (2006). Contradictions in theorizing and implementing communities in education. Educational Research Review, 1, 27-40.
Jackson, J. (2015). Becoming interculturally competent: theory to practice in international education. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 48, 91-107.
[ii] 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.