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Education Abroad Prepares Students for International Experiences

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Culture shock is the disorientation one feels when immersed in an entirely different cultural setting, such as an education abroad setting. Though it often leads to discomfort, it is actually seen as  a vital component of international experience.

“Culture shock isn’t a bad thing at all,” Anthony Ogden, director of Education Abroad at UK said.

Many students who take part in education abroad programs experience culture shock, also known as cultural adjustment, after returning.

“Its not easy, and it is not always fun, but a successful education abroad experience makes a student question his or her own values and assumptions,” Ogden said. “I want every student to come away from their experience abroad understanding as much as about themselves as they do about the host cultures where they studied.”

Education Abroad at UK helps students make the most of their cultural adjustment through an academic course titled “ISP 599: Education Abroad at UK.”

ISP 599, which is a series of orientation sessions, both on-campus and via virtual learning, covers general administrative and logistical considerations, cultural adjustment and methods of engagement. The course also classifies a student as full-time, making federal and institutional financial aid available.

“Students are encouraged to actively reflect on their education abroad experience in its entirety,” Thomas Teague, education abroad adviser, who coordinates the ISP 599 course, said. “Connecting the experience of entering a different culture, with the experiences of living in that culture and then returning home is very transforming.”

The goal of ISP 599 is to holistically prepare students — academically, culturally and psychologically — by linking the pre-departure, abroad and re-entry phases. Linking these phases of an education abroad experience cultivates the intellectual and intercultural learning students gain from their education abroad experience.

“The subjects taught in ISP 599 are relevant to where the students are in the process of their education abroad program; for instance, career development is discussed before they leave, so beforehand they can set clear goals about how they want their time abroad to support their career goals and to think about what they must do to ensure they achieve these goals,” Ogden said.

Students are also asked to think of their personal goals too, and plan for them accordingly. For example, many students hope to create lasting friendships while abroad, and ISP 599 helps students meet this goal by discussing socialization patterns and the difference between private and public conversation topics in an international setting.

 “We prepare students to have a meaningful experience while abroad, but what I find fascinating is that for many students, it is actually harder for them to come home than it is to go abroad,” Ogden said. “A student comes home from an education abroad experience expecting familiar patterns and routines, but in fact, they have changed and they see the world differently.”

To help students make this transition back to the U.S. upon their return, ISP 599 guides students in integrating their international experiences into their lives. The course also gives them the ability to articulate their new found skills and knowledge to their families, peers and potential employers.

“Once I got back I was able to share my experience with others through a ‘Welcome Back’ session,” Courtney Stone, a sophomore in the international study major who went to London over the summer, said. “The session really helped me better understand and integrate all of the experiences before, during and especially after the program.”

To learn more about Education Abroad attend a First Steps Information Session and visit the Resource Center in 315 Bradley Hall.