Education Abroad: To Travel While You Travel?

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879Today’s post touches on an important subject – the challenges of truly learning a culture when education abroad students are chronic “weekend travelers.”  More and more students who participate in a period of time abroad take advantage of regional travel, finding themselves outside their host country more weekends than not.  Melibee’s Kathleen Kessler considers the pros and cons of this trend.

Often times there is a “fit it all in” urgency to our time abroad. But what if, here’s a crazy idea, we stayed in the city/town that we originally set out for? You’ve already done the travel part, now it’s time for the  live in another country part. I believe there should be a shift in thinking about creating a “home” while abroad, rather than a “home base.”

Those on semester long programs abroad, especially, try to take advantage of their location by visiting as many other cities or countries as possible, but how much does their education abroad experience suffer from that? It’s understandable; you are presented with an opportunity to explore a continent/city you may have never been to. But on the other hand, when you remain in one area you are given first class access to an entire culture! Meet the people! Eat the food! Ask questions! Some say “It’s not wasted time if you enjoy the time you are wasting.” While on an education abroad experience, we must learn to embrace this “wasted” time and see it as an opportunity for local exploration and adventure.

During my semesters abroad, I watched my fellow students spend the weekdays and nights planning trips that they took every weekend. When did that leave time for them to explore this new city we were actually living in? During organized field trips and nights of binge drinking? That’s hardly a worthwhile experience.

Of course, there are pros and cons to each side so it is most important perhaps to step back and evaluate your reasons for going abroad in the first place then assess if your activities match this. Are you looking to learn about a specific culture or just trying to get out of your comfort zone?

Let’s further consider the pros and cons:

PROS:

  • Using regional travel is a method of exploring other aspects of the same country’s culture. The US isn’t the only country that experiences a difference between the North and South. Use this opportunity to learn about and interact with the different regional cultures as a way to compare them.
  • One of my most fond memories of studying in Rome was when I left the city and headed south to spend time with a friend’s Italian family for Easter. Experiences like this (or festivals and cultural events) are worth the engaging in travel in a new location because they still provide for immersion experiences in the culture.

CONS:

  • Too much travel does not allow for adequate time to truly learn about the city/town/country you are in.
  • Your time abroad will end up feeling like one big time management exam.  While you may learn a lot about cheap airlines and night bus schedules, you also might be compromising your time by missing out on the non-academic daily routines and developing relationships in your actual host city/town.
  • Quantity does not always trump quality. Being able to say you have been to 10+ countries really loses its value when someone asks you what you liked best, or your favorite spot, and you simply can’t remember.

If you’re going to travel, make sure you take the time to examine what you are hoping to gain from the experience. You and your host country will benefit more than you know by spending the time focusing on the experiences of one place rather than the checklist of tempting tourism.  By the end of your study abroad experience, be it a few weeks or many months, being able to say “I lived in ______” and really mean it will be irreplaceable. Not to mention, you’ll be able to offer the absolute best city guide to future visitors —and for me, that’s what it’s all about; sharing your authentic experiences in another culture!

kathleenkessler

About the Author:  Kathleen Kessler is a member of the Melibee hive.  She studied abroad twice while in college in both the Czech Republic and Italy. Kathleen is pursuing a MA in ESL and is currently live in New Zealand and learning about the culture in her host city by not traveling every single weekend!

  • mariacsnyder

    This is a very interesting question. It does seem like it can go both ways. Another thing is that planning and going on trips used to involve actually getting on the phone or going into a travel agency and having to communicate in another language. While it is still that way many places, in other spots it is so easy to use the internet to book that you are never “forced” to talk to anyone while making arrangements.

    On the other hand, I can understand that students who are on a very tight budget (and will have hefty loans to pay back post-college) want to take advantage of their time abroad to see more places than where they are studying. Perhaps the most important thing is what you do no matter where you are (in the same place or traveling) – are students viewing things from the fringe and partying or trying to get at more involved experience and learn about the more nuanced parts of the cultures of a place?