The Psychology of Studying Abroad

Jason Renner
October 29, 2017
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People say a lot of different things when they try to describe what study abroad is really like. For me now, it is also hard to articulate what exactly I am currently experiencing since there is a whirlwind of events and emotions all happening.

Studying abroad, as a psychological phenomenon, has been well-documented, and my program has done a good job at explaining how a study abroad experience causes a student’s mood to fluctuate. I’ve found their description of this phenomenon to be pretty accurate when comparing it to my own experience. For starters, there is an incredible culture shock upon first arrival at your study abroad destination. With everything and everyone around you being completely foreign, it’s hard to not shelter yourself to some degree and rely on things that are comfortable to you (communication with friends and family, social media, etc.). But simultaneously, there’s the curiosity to explore and learn your new environment. This curiosity is small at first, but grows exponentially as each day passes by. Feelings of loneliness and trepidation are replaced by excitement.

I found this description to be extremely accurate for my own experiences. It’s hard to say what I was expecting Shanghai to be like or look like, but upon first arrival, it was a slow transition for me to become comfortable here. I spent a lot of time thinking about the things I was missing at both my home and my university back in Virginia. However, these thoughts soon began to fade as my program began to get started and my classes and activities began.

A big part about becoming comfortable while studying abroad was finding things of interest to do, and with a city like Shanghai that is massive and has cultural influences from around the world, it would be impossible not to find something that could interest anyone. What enhances the study abroad experience even more as one becomes comfortable during the semester is the relationships that one makes. Having meaningful relationships with friends, teachers and others is indispensable to a quality study abroad experience. While there is certainly an argument to be made about whether the caliber of a study abroad program is the number one factor in determining the value of a study abroad experience, I truly believe it is the people you find yourself with that will determine the overall level of your experience. I’ve been pleased to find myself surrounded by quality individuals in my program, all of which are as interested in pushing their comfort zones like me and discovering what opportunities and adventures exist outside of the United States.

However, this is not to suggest that feelings of missing home don’t still occur intermittently throughout your time abroad. As mentioned before, a student’s mood fluctuates while abroad, so there are certainly ebbs and flows. It isn’t necessarily bad though to, from time to time, long for certain aspects of home. In a way, studying abroad helps you realize what exactly you value and cherish at home. For instance, my semester abroad has really reaffirmed my love for my university. It hurts me to be missing an entire semester with my friends in Lexington, Virginia, but this time apart will help me enjoy the experience of being there that much more when I return.

Though I am slightly over halfway through my program, I find it important to reflect now on my thoughts about what a study abroad experience is truly like. This way, I can properly contrast what my thoughts were mid-way through my experience versus what my thoughts will be upon completion on my semester in Shanghai. There was a point in time where the sheer size and foreign nature of this city made me think of nothing but going back home. Though, with my program’s end date now arriving in over a month, I can only think about how much I’ll miss this incredible city once I return to America.

Studying abroad is a unique experience and is different for everyone, but I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in it. After all, if I could pick to study abroad again, I would. However, I would choose a year-long program this time instead of a single semester because studying abroad is something worth experiencing for as long as you can.

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Jason Renner

<p>I love storytelling because of the unique narrative style that each author has, be it through prose or poetry. In a time where understanding each other is of the utmost importance, you can usually learn the most about a person through their work and writing. I value my own distinctive voice, and I hope to share my experiences and convey the knowledge and wisdom I gain from my time abroad through a blog or another platform.</p>

2017 Fall
Home University:
Washington and Lee University
Political Science
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