Do You Intend to Study Abroad While You Are in College?

Do You Intend to Study Abroad While You Are in College?

Do you know anyone who has lived and studied in a foreign country? Would you like to do that, and if so, where would you like to go? Why?

If you have spent any time outside of the region where you live — not necessarily out of the country — do you feel you experienced that place as a visitor or as a local? Would you say you had any “authentic experiences” there, or did you primarily do “touristy” things? Why do you say that?

In “Was My Study Abroad Experience ‘Authentic’ Enough?,” Claire Haug, a student at Smith College, writes about her semester studying in Amsterdam and the pressure she felt to have some sort of “authentic Dutch experience.” Her post begins:

On any given morning, I’m on my bike: zipping around tight corners and down cobblestone alleyways, dodging tourists while simultaneously trying to not fall into canals on my way to school in Amsterdam’s city center. Like any good Amsterdammer, I’m a pro at swerving and dodging, racing a tram and cursing out the pedicabs that take up the entire bike lane. I like to think that I fit into the cityscape — that at a glance, I could pass for a local, instead of a student studying abroad. I can ride with no hands, after all.

For increasing numbers of American students, studying abroad is a standard part of the college experience. Whenever I open up Instagram, I see snapshots of friends posing in front of famous landmarks with witty captions about how they’re not in Kansas anymore. But with it comes a certain set of baggage: the expectation that one’s time abroad should be “authentic.”

This has come up over and over again during the course of my semester here. When friends or relatives ask me how I’m doing, they often want to know: Am I having an authentic Dutch experience? But to be honest, I don’t know what it means to authentically experience a country or culture. At what point do you stop being a tourist and start experiencing things authentically?

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— Do you want to study or work abroad at some point? If yes, where? And what kind of experiences would you hope to have while living abroad?

— How do you think studying abroad might be different from vacationing in that same place? Do you think there is similar pressure to live as the local people do when you are only traveling to a place for a short time?

— If you have already studied abroad, did you want to feel like you had truly lived in that place, as opposed to feeling like a visitor? Do you feel that you accomplished this?

— What might constitute an authentic experience for someone who were to visit your hometown? What would be the “touristy” things to do? Are any of those experiences nevertheless worthwhile?

— Why do you think being a tourist often gets a bad rap? And why is having an authentic experience so valued?

— About studying abroad, the author writes, “Some of my most vivid memories from the last few months are ones in which I felt vaguely uncomfortable or out of place.” To what degree does this resonate with your own experiences in unfamiliar places?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.