Last term almost 70 students studied abroad in order to spend time away from campus to see the world, learn something new or complete their experiential learning requirement. While the positives often overlay conversations on study abroad, many students encounter challenges as well.
“The biggest thing that I would say about being in the Netherlands … things that wouldn’t take you very long in the United States take a lot longer in a context where no one is speaking the language that is your first language,” senior Devin Hanley said.
A new language was a challenge for many students, “The words don’t sound the way that they’re spelled, and they all sound the same,” junior Julie Wertheimer said, who studied in Denmark. “It’s very guttural. If you don’t grow up making those noises you don’t develop the muscles, [so] then you can’t do it … and then no one knows what you’re saying.”
In addition to adapting to using a new language, students also had to adjust to a culture different from the one they grew up in. Some were positive associations with the cultures in their new countries.
“Biking was fun, I miss biking,” Wertheimer said. “Everybody bikes everywhere.”
Nonetheless, there were aspects of the culture that were harder to adjust to.
“There is a phenomenon called ‘Dutch Directness,’” Hanley said. “Sometimes it was refreshing … but I could also do without really personal questions.” Hanley also noted that “the racism is really jarring and hard to reconcile.”
Similarly, junior Mark Muniz, who studied in Jordan, said the hardest adjustment to the new culture was “the kind of roles that men and women are expected to play in society, like the segregation in public space between males and females.”
Most students did not experience difficulties upon returning to the United States or to Knox. But this was not the case for sophomore Vicki Martin, who studied abroad in Argentina, on her first day back at Knox.
“I was scared. I was kind of on the verge of a panic attack. I didn’t know how to handle that; I was fine at home, I was fine moving in, but it was that first night in the caf.”On the other hand, Hanley said that he had no trouble readjusting to life in the United States. He said that was “the weirdest part, how normal it felt to slip back into what it’s like to be an American student.”
Despite, difficulties that arise in a new setting outside America, study abroad overwhelmingly receives positive feedback. In Martin’s case, the experience was “amazing and life changing.”