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Goals & Expectations

What Are Your Goals?

It is important that you identify goals and objectives before leaving in order to make the most of your experience. The following questions may help you with this self-evaluation.
  • What are my personal beliefs and attitudes?
  • What does it mean to be an American?
  • What are our cultural beliefs and customs? 
  • How do I plan to learn about the cultures, customs, behaviors, and values of the country where I am studying? 
  • What am I willing to consider? 
  • Will I be open to doing things differently? Will I take risks?

  • Why am I going: to practice a foreign language, to learn about foreign countries and cultures, to fulfill academic requirements, to explore new areas of study? 
  • How does this semester fit into my academic plans?
  • What courses have I already taken to prepare me for the program?
  • Can I use this semester to research directed study or senior paper topics?

  • Can I use this experience in the future?
  • Will I go to graduate school or straight into a career?

What Should I Expect Once I Get There?

Tough Question: Will a Study Abroad experience require more work?  The answer is complex; you will be expected to be highly motivated in your studies. Intense “academic pressure” is not as common in other pedagogical systems as it is in the U.S.; there will probably be less supervision of your academic work than you are used to here. You have to be independent, well-organized, and self-disciplined in order to do well.  In certain systems, course final grades are based on only one or two projects/tests per term.

Expectations of Studies Abroad
Often courses abroad are different from courses here—more specialized, few, if any “survey” courses. Perhaps there will be no quizzes, mid-terms or term papers with success in the courses depending on the final exam (oral or written). In a foreign university, you may be in a lecture hall with 50 to 1,000 other students. In many U.S. college-sponsored programs, courses will be much like those here.
Expectations of Campus Life Abroad
In the U.S. we generally take students out of society for four years and isolate them in a little utopia that we call a campus. Often, everything you need is available on campus, and there is not much reason to ever leave it. Abroad, students are an integral part of society. In foreign universities, there is little of what we call “campus life." Usually the university buildings are in the heart of the city, but scattered over a considerable area and separated from each other by residences, stores, and factories. You may live in one part of the city, attend classes in another part, work in the library somewhere else, and eat your meals in the student restaurant on the opposite side of the city. You will thus participate in the “hassle” of everyday city life: mass transportation, strikes, impersonal attitudes, tourists, etc. So, expect much less “student life”, fewer clubs, fewer social affairs, and fewer organized sports than in America.
Expectations of Foreign Students
Because students you encounter abroad may be products of a more specialized system of education, you may find them older and better prepared to meet the academic demands of the university situation. Most likely they will have begun studying their major earlier than their American counterparts, so expect them to have a much more extensive knowledge of the subject. You may also find them serious and tending to act, even among their peers, with great formality and reserve. (You could conceivably sit next to a local student in class for a year without ever striking up a conversation.) You will be surprised at how politically knowledgeable the overseas student is—better bone up on your knowledge of history and politics of the U.S. and of the host country before you go, and don’t forget to pack your sense of humor.
Expectations of Friendly Relationships
Contacts in many societies, particularly in Europe, are not as facile as American social acceptance. For example, the concept of a “friend” is distinct from the concept of an “acquaintance”. It takes many months to make a “friend,” but once friendship is formed, it will last a lifetime. If you are “living with a family,” don’t expect to be immediately welcomed to the bosom of the family like another son or daughter. It does happen, but it is the exception. More typically, your relationship will start off as that between boarder and landlord/landlady. Therein lies the challenge: to make the relationship grow into something more than the formal, distant relationship it will initially be.
Expectations of Adjusting to Life Abroad
Be prepared to undergo a fairly typical adjustment cycle during the first few weeks (or months) of your stay. It could be compared to a roller coaster ride. It will have its ups and downs. In most cases, students start out with a great deal of excitement and euphoria and believe that wherever they are studying is the most fantastic place on earth. Riding high with enthusiasm is a typical experience at first! After a while, the novelty usually wears off, leaving the student experiencing feelings of loneliness, frustration, disappointment, depression, homesickness, and irritability. Students can be tempted to complain about "everything and everyone." Ultimately, those early feelings of in-adaptation tend to disappear as students get their bearings. As they complete the adjustment cycle, students come to accept and then to enjoy their new culture again, including the academics, food, habits, and customs of the host country. At the end, many don't want to leave and spend hours trying to figure out a way to stay or get back there again very soon!