Excuuuuuse You!: Tips for Studying Abroad (page 2)
John Pearson is Director of the Bechtel International Center at Stanford University, which houses a number of services — including Foreign Student and Foreign Scholar Services and the Overseas Resource Center. The center provides advice to students applying for grants to study and conduct research abroad.
He that is a Traveller must have the back of an ass to bear all, a tongue like the the tail of a dog to flatter all, the mouth of a hog to eat what is set before him, the ear of a merchant to hear all and say nothing.
Thomas Nashe 1567-1601
While the world has changed since the days of Thomas Nashe, the advice he gave can still have relevance to students going overseas. How do we prepare for, and benefit from, a period of study in a different country and culture?
Know before you go
The American writer, Robert Benchley, once sent a humorous telegram from Venice that said "Streets Flooded. Please Advise." Take a serious lesson from this — learn about your destination; don't assume you know.
Meet with students and scholars from the country who are on your campus; learn about social and behavioral norms. Most importantly, keep that inquiring mind while you are overseas; the love of learning should go beyond your academic reasons for venturing outside the U.S.
Be inquisitive but reserve judgment
To study in another country is to open yourself to different attitudes and customs: how do people relate to each other? how does a society make decisions, and explain traditions? Be ready to learn about these differences; don't be quick to criticize until you have heard another view.
Be understanding but curious
This does not mean accepting customs and opinions if you feel you cannot. You should remain curious about these differences, asking for reasons why things are they way they are. While it is important to understand a country's culture and traditions it is also possible to question these traditions in a manner that is positive and not offensive.
Remember that one day you will leave; those who have become your friends will remain.
Be a learner and a teacher
A student overseas has much to learn, but also much to teach. The interest in U.S. culture is global and questions about the U.S. are bound to be frequent. Accept that you may be seen as the spokesperson for all things American but do not shy away from this wonderful challenge to exchange views and ideas. President Eisenhower once said that as important as "summit" meetings were, even more important were the meetings at the base. This is where impressions, friendships, and learning about different cultures develop.
The Ugly American syndrome
This is a much-misunderstood phrase. In the book of the same name, the Ugly American was a quiet, well-intentioned man who contributed much to the society where he lived in Southeast Asia.
The term has since been applied to the concept of the all-knowing, and at times condescending, American abroad. Know about yourself and your country; be ready to explain U.S. politics and society in a context of global differences and others' perceptions. Expect to be misunderstood but be patient as you develop your friendships and conversations. A good traveler is one who is seen as an individual from a country not an embodiment of that country.
Finally, don't be afraid of being yourself, being from the U.S., and holding views dear. And don't worry about missing your home and your customs now and again. All students do. At times you may find yourself taking the advice of Christopher Fry when he wrote that the best thing we can do is to make wherever we're lost in look as much like Home as we can.
4 More Items You Might be Interested In:
If you’re the kind of person who’s aware of those around you, and can remain sensitive to their customs and concerns, you’re probably a good match for study outside the U.S. Find out.
Americans who understand the Japanese language and culture are proving indispensable in our efforts to cooperate in matters of peace, technology, and space. Meet NASA’s Rebecca Spyke-Gardner.
Jennifer Archibeque didn’t know how to treat the help when she lived with a Colombian family. She’d never faced that issue at home, and felt awkward and uncomfortable. She learned some useful lessons from the experience.
Here’s a tip when you’re abroad: try out your improving language skills, don’t assume that everybody will speak English.
Ten Tips for Cultural Sensitivity
1. Understand the role of the elderly in the society.
2. Understand how formal and informal address is used.
3. Don't assume everyone will speak English.
4. What are the norms for punctuality?
5. What are the social considerations for drinking?
6. Don't keep saying, "In the U.S. we do (this or that)."
7. Be yourself, but understand your role as an American.
8. Be patient with bureaucracy: every country has it.
9. Don't jump to conclusions — take time to listen and learn.
10. Remember: the laws of the country apply to you too.
Reprinted with the permission of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships.
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