To travel abroad takes a certain level of courage. To do so alone requires even more. It seems that the opportunity to spend time studying in another country is not embraced by many students, but rather feared.
But why is it that we are scared to travel? Is it the removal from our comfort zone? Are people concerned that they will fail to breach the language barrier? Is it the worry that something could go wrong in a 'strange' place and we would be left by ourselves to deal with it? Perhaps it is not because we are scared at all, but because it is an inconvenient process that involves leaving behind friends and family (for a limited period, at least).
All these things crossed my mind. I can tell you that when I first arrived at Loughborough University, studying abroad was not something I anticipated doing at all. I took comfort in the fact that should I fail to adapt to university life, my home was just a short train journey away.
It is somewhat ironic that I now take comfort in university life, and fear its impending finale!
My desire to travel did not transpire after a miraculous overcoming of all the concerns I have just listed. It emerged when I decided that travelling was something that hadto be done. I can safely say that I have maintained that view to this day.
Carter, in his book “Living in a New Country”* argued that students should regard travel “not as an awkward interval between fixed points of departure and arrival, but as a mode of being in the world.”
Therefore, to turn down the opportunity to travel would be to postpone our own cultural development. I can honestly say that my semester abroad at Lund University, in Sweden, has changed my life. And believe me, the number of people on my course who have since regretted the decision not to go, emphasises the point that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
But what attitude to take when you move abroad? To quote Carter again, he notes that two contrasting assumptions are often made about people travelling from one country to another:
"Either the newcomers insist on rigidly transporting their intellectual interests with them, and refuse to study in any depth the productions of the local culture; or… they instantly abandon their former studies and, with a zeal somewhat embarrassing to those who have lived there longer, immerse themselves in the local culture as if it were their very own discovery."
Certainly the first approach seems very negative and not one I would suggest an international exchange student should adopt. However, in my opinion, the latter approach, (while somewhat excessive) sounds far more rewarding. Indeed, the travelling student should not "abandon his/her former studies," but rather integrate them with new learning methods. Yet the immersion into new culture, and the concept of discovery, (and, of course, having fun) is exactly what I feel intentional exchanges are all about.
*Carter, P. (1992) "Living in a New Country: Meaning, History and Language," Great Britain: Faber and Faber Limited.