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Personal Planning and Considerations

Planning Study Abroad: Intercultural Understanding, Social Identities, and Personal Growth

Intercultural Understanding, Social Identities, and Personal Growth
The choice of study abroad destination and specific program can seem daunting. There really is literally a world of opportunities – all waiting for you. Of course, your first considerations when thinking about study abroad will be academic. A conversation with your academic adviser is a good place to begin formulating which locations and programs will best contribute to your undergraduate education.

In addition to academic considerations students should explore the day-to-day realities of the life of a visiting student in each locale. There are so many variables, and one of the most significant of them is you! Living abroad requires a high level of openness and resiliency. Many students feel newly liberated by the way they can express themselves in the host country. Other students may find restrictions, based on the host culture’s norms, that they may find confining at times. Most students report that some of the most important learning that occurs abroad is what they learn about themselves.

Therefore it is important to do as much investigation regarding the host environment as possible. In many cases there will be members of the Swarthmore community who are either from the host culture or who have lived and studied there. Take advantage of these opportunities to ask questions and to explore what it might be like to live in the host environment and what challenges might present themselves. Will you be in a linguistic, religious, or ethnic minority or majority? What should you know about what it may be like to be a member of the LGBTQI community there? What are gender roles like? How might you be seen as either a US student or a student who studies in the US? Finding your individual answers to these and other questions will help guide you toward a study abroad journey that best serves your goals and your capacities for entering another cultural and educational context.

Students should keep in mind that there might be ways in which their social identities, faith-based practices, and personal needs may affect their experience. For example, it may not be possible to change an exam date that conflicts with the student’s religious practice. Another example is that it may be difficult if not impossible to maintain food requirements or preferences at the abroad site. Therefore students are encouraged to explore early on whether or not their needs can be accommodated at the host site.