Ever since my first semester abroad in England, I have always been passionate and proud of the study abroad experience. The exciting adventures, the life-long friendships, the endless travels. In the rush and tumble of stories, I found that I often bypassed the academic component of studying abroad to highlight the life-changing socio-cultural adventures that occur while living in another country.
So for my master’s thesis, I decided to explore how participants in Ontario-Baden-Württemberg Student Exchange Program recognized their academic, social and cultural learning experiences. Not only did students differentiate between their academic, social, and cultural learning experiences but the contexts blended beautifully to create various learning experiences. Here are some examples:
Aca-cultural = interrelation between the academic and cultural contexts
While on exchange in Germany, one of Anna’s assignments involved interviewing a member within her host community. Anna explained that by approaching and interviewing a stranger in German, she developed the courage to approach others within the community and actively participate in local outreach events and fundraisers.
Socio-academic = interrelation between the social and academic contexts
Ben noted that the classroom, unlike his international residence, served as a space to meet and develop friendships with domestic students. His German classmates taught him about the local culture and invited him to events like Oktoberfest and Frühlingsfest.
Socio-cultural = interrelation between the social and cultural contexts
Jenny, an international student in Canada, learned to write a Canadian resume at the university’s career center and got a job at Starbucks. She explained how her colleagues and friends provided a social support system that prevented her from feeling homesick and enabled her to integrate into the community.
My thesis reinforced what I already knew intuitively, that the interrelation of one’s academic, social, and cultural experiences is what makes studying abroad such a holistic educational experience.
The question that remains to be answered is: How do we, as educators and professionals, understand the study abroad experience? And how do we communicate and validate this intricate web of learning that occurs while our students are abroad?
Maybe that’s a topic for the next blog!