“Heading Out”: The Study Abroad experience as a pathway for Emerging Adulthood

January 07, 2015 11:09 AM | Deleted user

Studying abroad is a unique, exciting experience – one that will challenge, complicate, and expand a student’s knowledge, curiosity, and self-awareness. In all its vibrancy and great diversity, each student’s academic and personal journey abroad involves active participation, an open mind, curiosity, and very often a lot of patience. The same can be said about the Emerging Adulthood decade which, in the best of times, is an exciting, explorative, and often bumpy journey for sorting out, as Arnett says, “what clicks”.  The optimism and risk-taking energy of Emerging  Adulthood can motivate a college student to choose an abroad experience and generate those “clicks”.

If a student chooses to go abroad during his or her Junior year, then it’s likely that the first years in college have been learning ones – particularly, skill building around relationships and academics.  Students have probably had the practice of living outside the family home, moving away from the comfortable structure around family, friends, and community.  They have likely already experienced the ebb and flow of academic and relationship challenges, and the excitement of the new and the common disappointments of every day life.  If a student arrives at University without a plan to study abroad, it’s often at the University, in the educational context, where a plan emerges.

From home to University campus.

From campus to global experience.

For each student, the choices and the experiences are individual.

There is not one story - each student brings a unique set of motivations, expectations, hopes, and anxieties. We will follow a group of students through the various moments of study abroad. In their voices you will find the various flavors of emerging adulthood.

Some students, like Stephanie below, arrive at college with the dream to live and learn abroad already “cooking”.

STEPHANIE:   “Expectations – stepping out on my own”

 Stephanie, age 20, walked down the stairs as the door to the international study abroad office at her campus closed behind her.  It was April in her Sophomore year in her small US mid-west college town.  She’d just finished her application to spend the upcoming Fall term in Berlin, Germany.

 She was 12 when her parents surprised her and her older sister with a family Christmas trip to London.  No one in Stephanie’s family had traveled outside of the US; no one had a passport.  Preparing for that trip long ago held a strong memory for Stephanie, a memory that felt even more significant because, at the time her family was preparing for London, her best friend’s family was hosting for the full academic year an exchange student from Poland. His accent, the spices he used in food, the stories he shared about his home country, and the things he found strange in American society had made Stephanie curious about what it was like to live and study abroad.  During high school, she often thought about the overnight plane trip to London, the exposure to new sites, a crowded city, the metro system, the “strange” sound of the English language  -- all conspired to create for Stephanie the expectation that she too would one day travel and study abroad.

 Stephanie, like many students who plan for some months or even years to study abroad, got a job the summer prior to departure for Berlin.  She wanted to contribute to the funds she knew she would need for the term. In her application, she described herself as organized, practical, and mature.  She was mindful of the challenges she had mastered two years earlier when she left home and settled into the college dorm, adjusting to two roommates who were not easy to get along with, adjusting to being away from her community and family. So, arriving in Berlin would not be “Day #1” for her.  She felt that she was prepared for what she considered next steps for her academic interests and emotional development.

 Pulling her suitcase out of the back of the closet as she organized for her departure, she felt excited, ready, and hopeful.  Although she ‘d heard that a few of her friends often felt homesick and sometimes disappointed by the overseas experiences, she didn't think of herself as someone who would have any problems.  Optimism and a positive mood were her signatures.








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