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Studying a bit differently than at home university
- Piotr Kowzan, MA
- Aleksandra Kurowska
- Magdalena Prusinowska
- Małgorzata Zielińska, MA
The purpose of this article Edit
The aim of this article is to present different sources of learning while studying abroad. All the four authors of this text have at least twice taken the opportunity to study in a different country, not only being exchange students at foreign universities (in Linköping and Bremen), but also enrolling to Folk High Schools or doing an internship abroad. We have also met other international students and used the opportunity to inquire about their experiences. (przypis: this was done for the sake of other research, see: Kowzan (2005), Kurowska (2006), Prusinowska (2005), Zielinska (2006)).
Students have travelled to foreign educational institutions since the beginning of the history of tertiary education. Nearly nothing has changed apart from the extent of this phenomenon and the institutional support it has been accompanied by. Surprisingly, there has not been much research on the subject.
We will attempt here to create a mulitidimensional picture of the international students' course of learning, showing both the most easily noticeable sources of learning as well as the more subtle ones. Due to this, some of the conclusions in this paper may seem obvious and trite, but we still feel the importance of attempting to make the delineation as complete as possible. We would like to provide an insight into the reality, that we know from our own experience and in this way to contribute to the knowledge about this vital part of academic life, that student mobility seems to be.
It would be untrue to say that we used a particular method of empirical research in order to obtain certain results presented in this paper. Our stay abroad was indeed not intended to serve a particular research goal. However, being students of Educational Studies, we were intrinsically motivated to reflect on the period of our stay abroad. The question of the difference between learning at one's home university and the one abroad arised and we have been accompanied by it since the very beginning of our stay as "international students." (przypis: In this article the term international student will be used in its broadest sense to refer to all students who travel abroad from one institution to another.) This article is the result of our reflections (based on observations and interviews) and later discussions on the subject.
Probably most of the researchers who have already tried writing an article with someone else know how big a challange it is. Nowadays, new technologies (e.g. the wiki technology, which we have used in our work) make this task much easier, but we have still found it problematic to reconcile different points of view and styles of writing of all the authors, especially that there were four of them and they lived in three different countries during the process of writing. Generally, none of the parts of the article has its own author, but they were all repeatedly changed by all of us until we have reached a consensus. This way, we have melted our experience together, which makes it maybe not exactly objective, but at least more 'multisubjective'.
Different sources of learning while studying abroad Edit
It is said that travelling broadens the mind. One of the Turkish proverbs goes even further saying that "Travelling broadens the mind more than reading". We are not going to ponder here over the accurateness of this statement, but we would like to draw attention to the multitude of advantages of learning by being an international student. The scholarship may indeed be a great chance to enhance one's knowledge, all the same, studying abroad means not only spending the number of hours at the university, listening to the lectures and participating in seminars. It is also, or even mainly, the opportunity to open your eyes wider, feel astonished and thrilled, be confused and dissapointed.
Studying abroad may give students a chance to derive knowledge from various sources, such as attending the university courses, spending time in the library and ´learning by doing´ during the internship that can be organised by the host university e.g. teaching practice at Linköping University. Students are also tested from being patient enough to face the bureaucrecy, to deal with financial problems and the loneliness in a foreign country.
What is interesting, also the spare time abroad seems to be significantly more valuable than its equivalent at home. Spent mostly with foreigners (Kowzan, 2005), it gives students a chance to meet cultural differences and take part in the other people's festivities and their everyday activities.
Elisabeth Murphy-Lejeune, who have studied the problem of student mobility draws similar conclusions:
- “The main research outcome is that practically everything in the European student experience may be assessed as a benefit. In other words, even the negative or difficult aspects of the stay are eventually perceived as enriching, adding significantly to their life experience in the present and potentially beneficial in the future. (...) Travelling and living abroad for a period of time (...) implies crossing into a new time – space, discovering new horizons where old and new blend, going through tempest and calm, avoiding rocks and perils, unearthing strange customs through secretive languages, pioneering new methods and strategies to negotiate the unexpected, exploring one’s resources, meditating over sameness and difference, trying out potential identities, and all the time learning.” (Murphy-Lejeune, 2001, p.230-233)
During our observations, it has also been discovered that students are frequently being confronted with the situation when they are defined by the others according to the nationality. This might cause various reactions, depending on one's attitude to being labeled. We have identified here three strategies, that is:
- agreeing on one's role as a spokesperson of the country of origin
- negating it, stressing the uniqueness of the individual
- accepting the role of a spokesperson but emphasizing one's own distinctiveness
This way, students learn something not only about the country they came to, but also about their countries of origin.
The issues mentioned above along with a few other ones are parts of the broadly understood 'different studying'. In this article we have enlisted the following sources of learning:
- taking part in lectures, seminars
- studying on one's own in the language laboratories, libraries etc.
- learning by practise (internship)
- learning by interaction with others
- experiencing a different educational system
- learning through being in a different country
- learning by dealing with challenges
- getting to know your own country being outside of it.
We are going to develop these ideas in separate sections.
This source of students' learning seem to be the most obvious one. Indeed, most of the international students choose a number of courses at the host university. Seemingly, there is no significant difference between taking courses at students' home and host university. Such courses as e.g. American Literature or Financial Accouting can be studied almost everywhere and if their value is officially defined by the same number of ECTS points, they may seem interchangeable.
However, there are several cases when students might choose the stay abroad due to the courses offered there.
Firstly, it is possible to choose at the host university a course which has nearly nothing in common with a 'homemade' programme. This may give students a unique chance to experience something new and make their education more all-round. Students can also use the opportunity to reasure themselves if they have made a good choice of the subject of studies. For example, some Social-Science-oriented students can feel a need to attend a course designed for future engineers and decide if it is worth studying or not. This problem of the relevancy of the courses can be examined even further, since some students take the opportunity to attend courses in foreign Folk High Schools. These schools offer a variety of courses from journalism and ornithology to astrology and pottery (przypis: see e.g.: www.folkehojskoler.dk). Basing on our observations and discussions, it seems that the way how the students connect this experience with the academic knowledge depends on how well they had been prepared for being abroad and how much they reflected on this experience when they came back to their home university.
Secondly, students can experience methods of work that they could only read about before. Students are given real examples that not only the term 'team work' has its cultural hues but the term 'discusion' as well. And even in the field of the same academic discipline, there are different approaches, references and paradigms in use.
Finally, students can attend a course that has the same name as the one at home university but those who take part in it make the course unique (e.g. because of their international background). If we assume, that the activity of students has the impact on what they learn (as in the unauthoritarian approach to education), then it is evident, that courses at the home and host university cannot be equal.
There is also a problem of "an opportunity cost." (przypis: the term is borrowed from economics where it is used to stress the lost of the second best alternative). It means that by taking a course at the host university students can lose what they could get at the home university. Some knowledge can never be found by them, because of taking another course instead of what was previously designed in the study programme. Not all univesities are ready for that. Obviously, the role of 'gaps' and 'surpluses' in one's knowledge depends on the profession that students are being prepared to do. But in practise, judging from our experience as students of the Institute of Pedagogy, we can say, that international students tend to be rewarded because of what they bring back home, and what is more, they are not 'punished' by what they have lost. What makes the "opportunity cost" barely perceptible at least in our case.
Studying on one's own Edit
Being an international student is by and large a temporal experience. However, while students in the same way as tourists recognise facilities at the host universities, unlike the latter they have the possibility to enjoy them.
The very first steps of students engaged in the process of their learning lead them to the library. Reading different books not only by unfamiliar authors, but sometimes in unknown languages (the international environment can help with that) can increase the variety of perspectives and help understanding the issues that students are interested in. Therefore, many learners may choose a particular university only because of the richness of its library.
Also, the availability of some materials specific for the host country or for the university that is particularly known for research in this field, may attract students from all over the world. Thus, the literature-based research, that students conduct during their courses contains new points of view and can have a deep meaning for their future academic development.
Experiencing a different educational system Edit
As it is generally known, the system of education is not the same in different countries. Many factors, e.g. political, historical or philosophical ones, influence not only the general structure of the system of education, but also the paradigms underlying it, methods of teaching/learning and patterns of communication.
Experiencing a different educational system may be a vital part of students' period of stay abroad. There may be several advantages of this fact. Needless to say, this situation is especially profitable for the students of Educational Sciences. They can experience all the differences instead of only reading about them.
Furthermore, all the students, not only the ones mentioned above, gain from this situation, since they compare the way in which they were tought before with what they have found abroad. The former ceases to be the obvious one. Through this comparison and distance students can develop their own method of learning or at least an attitude to the existing choices. It may be crucial to their learning awareness and inspiring for further educational experiments.
Let us take a closer look at the example of Danish Folk High Schools. One can learn there the basics of some academic subjects, as well as how to sing, paint, cook or to felt hats and gloves. However, the most striking difference between learning there and at a Polish university is not the subject of study but the way of gaining the knowledge or skills. There are no exams and no certificates at the end of the courses. One can experience how different simple learning can be when students discover that almost everything is negotiable. With no external pressure and no tests to learn for one can easily become lazy or even feel bored. Consequently, students will not be able to benefit from the opportunities they are given, unless they find their intrinsic motivation. Even if it takes time its worth is undeniable as this motivation can be long-lasting.
Moreover, Folk High Schools, being boarding schools, add to students' experience also an important aspect of living in a small community – one learns with other students and through being and acting with them, which assures good training of interpersonal skills.
Comparing to our universities Danish Folk High Schools are also relatively more democratic. The relation between students and teachers is therefore significantly less authoritarian. It is precious (not only for students of Educational Sciences) to meet teachers who really work as facilitators, because just reading about such an approach does not provide a complete understanding of it.
For the students who intend to be teachers in the future, participating in programmes like Socrates Comenius gives an opportunity to work in diverse educational situations. One not only observes but also takes part in everyday school work and through that learns new techniques, approaches and learns how to deal with new problems. To be a language assistant in regions like Catalonia in Spain gives an opportunity to analyse approaches toward multiculturalism in education. It is a challenge to enter a school which was given a special status due to the percentage of immigrants (40% - Gypsies, 16% - Arabs, 10% - originating from South America) and other groups facing problems of social exclusion (e.g. unemployment in their families) in the local community (PRZYPIS: The Doctor Fleming Primary School - data for 2006).
The complex multicultural situation is also characteristic for Germany, where the rate of immigrants is relatively high. In such conditions, integration in the classroom seems to be more vital than any foreign language teaching. In case when the class (PRZYPIS: Burgerschule,Primary School, Husum) consists of 19 pupils, 9 from whom came from: The Philippines, Russia, Turkey and Poland, the German language acquisition is sometimes still on the very basic level, stonewalling the comunication. Teaching a foreign language seems to be problematic there, even inappropriate, because of the low level of the second langage (German). The language assistent, instead of teaching his or her mother tongue, learns how difficult the integration is and what kind of methods can successfully lead to it.
Learning how to deal with the multicultural environment gives therefore students a unique chance to prepare for similar changes that might happen also in Polish schools.
One can observe, learn and act – the results of that process can be changes in one's own educational practice but also in the host school that have to explain parts of their reality that seemed obvious before. The interchange is one of the main values of studying abroad.
Learning through being in a different country Edit
One of the most obvious aspects of learning as an international student is getting to know the host country. It can include for example: learning the language of the country, discovering local culture and cuisine, as well as the different political and social system.
1. Learning the language
Many students choose to go to the country which language they already know. In such a situation their stay abroad improves the level of proficiency. Even if the most commonly spoken language at the university is English they are still surrounded by the local language - in mass-media and in the city.
What is more, also the students who came to the country without knowing the language at all can learn considerably fast. If they have some contact with the locals and a chance to participate in everyday communication in their language (or only listen to it) then they can learn by acquisition which is considered by some language linguists as the most beneficial way of achieveing competance in language.
Both of the groups can also benefit from language courses offered by the host university. Naturally not all the students will welcome the chance of learning the local language as they might have different goals. However, most of them will probably get to know at least some daily life phrases used in shops etc.
2. Getting to know different political and social (welfare) system
When students live for several months abroad, sooner or later will they realise the differences between some aspects of life there and in the country of origin. If one reads the newspapers or watch news, they will do it even faster. However, they will face some of the differences even without taking any effort. One of the examples can be conflicts (social, ethnical, etc.) that can be also visible in the educational institutions. For instance, during the Socrates Comenius Meeting in Madrid (2006) students were told to learn Spanish (Castilian) not Catalan because this is the official language of the country. However, in Catalonia, Catalan is the official language as well. Thus, one is thrown into the very centre of the national conflict even without intending to.
The more inquisitive students will also find talking with the locals as a very good source of exclusive information on the situation of the country. However, there are some problems connected to this, e.g. not everywhere people want to talk about politics.
International students often learn a lot about social systems because they simply are beneficiaries of it e.g. receiving governmental scholarships or even using students' facilities. Using health care system is an example how European Union structures cooperate (or not) – even if one has information about it in advance, verifying is necessary and sometimes surprising.
3. Getting to know a different culture, literature, cuisine.
Another seemingly obvious aspect of learning while being abroad is that one gets to know the country's culture. Clearly, international students have a chance to extend their experience beyond an ordinary tourist's reach. Not only can they visit more museums, galleries and libraries, but also observe everyday routines of local people, social interactions in various situations or celebrations of different festivals.
In addition, students spending from 3 to 10 months abroad, can become acquainted with a wide range of local food, as some of the local specialities are connected to a particular festival or season. On the other hand, it is also possible that one chooses an 'international' diet. The reasons are diverse: economical, personal or religious. It is not difficult to resist the most praised hams of Spain, if one is a vegetarian. However, one cannot ignore them as they are almost in every shop and their smell is very strong.
There is one more thing that distinguishes studying abroad from learning about the foreign culture in one's own country. It is the advantage of observing the culture from minorities' point of view, which otherwise is very difficult, due to the dominance of the majority also on the international scale (e.g. official materials about minorities' education are hardly available). Such a situation takes place for example when one is a student in a Danish Folk High School in Germany (Schleswig/South Jutland) or works in a school with diverse minorities in Catalonia. Especially that Catalonia deals with majority-minority issue also as an autonomous region of Spain.
Students' observations and research conducted in those local communities may be valuable for their home universities. A student who can for instance give an account of specific educational situation can be a source of information not easily available otherwise. Thus international students not only gain knowledge about other countries but also can become ambassadors of their host country.
Learning through meeting other people Edit
As far as we have observed and researched, international students - at least Gdansk students during the Erasmus exchange - spend their spare time mostly in the company of other international students (89%), almost as frequently as with other Poles (74%). Only 22% of these students spent their spare time with local students and just 7% with other locals (Kowzan, 2005). (PRZYPIS: However it is not clear how much of the time in foreign country can be defined as 'spare') These numbers may indicate that students are alienated from the locals.
Learning from other foreigners Edit
In this context we also regard 'social entertainment' as a source of learning. Meeting with 'strangers' gives the opportunity to discover something about their country of origin, their language, and that we might have had unfair sterotypes about them. Social life, being together for fun, trying to fit in the informal groups may be the important factors of learning. There is much information one can derive from other students and make an advantage of their practical knowledge. Through observation and dialogue students can discover each others' culture, values and opinions.
In Germany students usually live in WG (Wohngemeinschaft) - big houses adapted for a number of students. It might be that there are 10 studnets living in one house, sharing the kitchen and bathroom. These students come from diffrent countries and speak their own languages. Sometimes the only way to communicate is the body language and sometimes the situation force them to learn the language they would never think of. One of us has experienced the situation, when the only chance to communicate with the flatmates was to learn some Russian phrases. Combining those phrases with Polish and English was a good way to convey the basic meaning.
Of course, it is not only the language one can learn, but the cultural and religious aspects as well. We have all experienced spending long hours comparing different traditions, religions, women's status and minorities righs. It appeared to us as more significant than any other way od learning.
Learning from the locals Edit
Probably the most of the students who want to get the insight into the culture of a foreign country would like to contact people living there. There are understandable profits of such a meeting. But communicating with locals might be not the easiest task according to the experience of many international students. It is however difficult to make general conclusions about the quality of the relation between students and the locals. This might depend of number of factors such as the general openess of the local community (it might be e.g. different in Spain and in Scandinavia), students cultural awareness sharing a common language, students' inter-personal skills and other circumstances. We will try to ilustrate it with the following examples.
One of us has experienced that the contact with the members of the local community may be divided in 4 stages. Firstly, students often try to fit into the local society (with all its rules and rights) by withdrawing from their nationality. It can mean to stop thinking e.g. as a Pole and in this way, leave some space for new experience. The next stage sometimes involves astonishment, incomprehensibility, amusement or even disappointment. After having more or less successfully overcome the cognitive dissonance international students tend to go to the third stage. During that stage one tries to learn local customs: smile as often as locals do, say hello to strangers, wish everyone a nice weekend, talk with the bus driver while going somewhere, welcome unexpected guests in students' apartment etc. All those rituals help to fit into the society. However, the foreign students are regarded as newcomers, temporal guests who receive the status of visitors. This fact seemed to be the main reason of the locals' attitudes such as indifference and even isolation. It's not open hostility or a physical aggression, but something you could call the “symbolic violence”. P. Bourdieu mentions the relations between the American teachers and students. So called “subtle instrument of repression” appears when someone retreats from showing positive feelings just to punish or inform one about the attitude (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990). The corresponding situation can sometimes be noticed in the locals – newcomers interaction. The locals´ attitude might have been defined in the particular situation (experienced by one of us) as indifferent, lacking in dialogue or separative. The newcomers primarily tried to join the groups but eventually agreed to work in small “Socrates communities” as locals often preferred to cooperate with each other. In addition to that, the similar situation can take place in pubs, cinemas and discos. To speculate about the reason, one can indicate on the language barriers. The foreign students sometimes use their own language which is a hybrid of English and the language of the host country, enriched by some unidentified sounds and gestures. Among the non-native speakers no one feels ashamed of using inappropriate German, when being in Germany. The only aim is to convey the message without fear of being analysed and judged. This particular experience can illustrate the problem: one of us found isolation from the locals the only way of feeling safe during the Socrates Erasmus Programme. It can be perceived as the fourth stage – withdrawal from the attempt to fit, to integrate.
Two of us, who spent one semester in Linköping, have also experienced some problems with establishing contacts with the locals. We were disapointed by the fact that no one - apart from university teachers - was interested in getting to know us. It might sound a but naive but coming from the country where the foreigners are still a bit exotic, we acpected some more attention. Initially we wanted to share accommodation with some Swedish students but we did not receive a positive reply to any of our numerous e-mails. However, we succeeded in finding a group of locals with whom we could establish satisfying contacts, owing to the fact that we had found a local chessclub where we could communicate on the gound of shared interests.
The situation was different when one of us came to Spain as a language assistant, surrounded by locals and hardly any international students. The natives from Viladecans (Catalonia) started even an action of finding people who could speak English with the language assistant (it was the only language of communication before the assistant learned some Spanish and Catalan). The assistant was receiving a lot of e-mail addresses and telephone numbers because people from the school were afraid she was feeling lonely. From the beginning the assistant's social life was connected with local people. It simply isn't easy to find a group of foreign students when one is working in a primary school in a non-university city. On the other hand, why should one look for them if locals are so friendly and open. It seems that the communication language can be the main factor which influences such a situation. English being medium of communication is in a way neutral. Locals stressed the importance of practising their English while meeting with the assistant. There was an interchange and both sides gained: knowledge about other country, a chance to practice foreign language (English) and companionship.
Learning by dealing with challenges Edit
Due to the multitude of possitive episodes and impresions students might have a temptation to reduce their experience only to the most pleasant dimensions. However, apart from the nice, 'postcard' perspective, there are also plenty of different kinds of barriers that students have to deal with before, during and after the exchange.
For instance, filling all the necessary documents can be a real challange. Moreover, it seems that rules of bureaucracy are changing in time, so it is hardly ever possible to get useful hints from those who went through the process. There is hardly any similarity between procedures in the Erasmus Programme and e.g. in Comenius. Even though they are both parts of the Socrates Programme. Students definitely need strong motivation to get what they want.
Besides, there might be financial problems. Though students get a scholarship for Erasmus exchange, the exact time of receiving money is difficult to forsee. That might be one of the reasons why, when 46 students from the Gdansk University were asked (Kowzan, 2005) if they had managed to find a job in a host country during Erasmus exchange, only 13% answered that they did not try. 26% succeeded in finding a placement.
Getting to know your own country being outside of it Edit
Scholarships abroad give not only the experience of being “the other” but also opportunity to discover ambiguities of being (or just being perceived as) a member of a group/society. In our cases it meant that we had to face questions like: What does it mean to be a Pole? What is the image of Poles and Poland in that particular country? As mentioned earlier, three strategies can be applied in such a situation (followed by several possible mixed types).
The first one is agreeing on one's role as a spokesperson of the country of origin. There is a question which part of home country or society one should present as the most representative, because simplifying is necessary if one does not have much time for a conversation or if one's interlocutor wants only a gist of Poland. The eager spokesperson can easily reproduce stereotypes but Polish stereotypes about themselves can be an important piece of information.
The second strategy is negating the role of a spokesperson and stressing the uniqueness of the individual. Such a person creates one's own image often by opposition to stereotypes and in that way involuntary or unconsciously is a source of information about one's culture.
The third strategy is accepting the role of a spokesperson but emphasizing one's own distinctiveness. This often means an attempt to identify oneself with a mixture of national symbols, traditions which were often not significant in one's life before. A student abroad can feel obliged to present the country of origin that they will have to look for information, discover old traditions in order to present them. However, they will still distance themselves from some aspects of their 'national identity' and present a critical approach.
To stress diversity of the issue we would like to present some impressions of our experiences as spokespersons of our country.
Example 1 The Independence Day In Sweden
Once in Sweden we were looking for a good date to meet all other Polish students and talk a little bit more. We found that there was The Independence Day coming. But what to do during this day? Are there any customs or celebrations that we could also show to other students? While living in Poland the holiday did not have any particular meaning to us except for having another day off. However, being in Sweden we felt the need of sharing our traditions and holidazs with others. As a result we have organised a meeting of Polish students open also for other nationalities. We prepared some Polish traditional meals that are usually served during Christmas, we wore red and white clothes and spent the evening sitting, eating, drinking Polish vodka and talking - paradoxically only in English. We are still under the impression of the upparently strong need of celebrating the Independence Day for the first and until now (2 years later) the last time in our lives.
Example 2 The Former Pope's death - Germany
There was a moment we lost the contact with the 'polishness'. When Pope John Paul II died, we weren't really sure what had happened. Contrary to Poland, in Germany there was hardly any information about the Pope's health condition. The media were limited in their commitment to the Pope's subject. One of us could hardly believe that in Poland people were praying and crying, students organised some vigils, shops were closed. In Germany the life went on. For some Polish students, it seemed to be obvious that if not Germans, then at least students from Spain or Italy will feel the lost of the Pope. Paradoxically, the only man showing his grief and sorrow was the one from China. It appeared, for some of us as inappropriate to show grief in international community, not to disturb the atmosphere of entertainment. In this case, the 'polishness´ was considered as not 'politically correct'.
Example 3 The Former Pope's death - Denmark
Presenting religious aspect of Polish culture was problematic, I was using my memories from childhood and information from media not forgetting to stress my distinctive attitude. The situation when I had to face the stereotype of all Poles being (radical) Catholics was even harder for me because of phenomenon which took place after John Paul II's death. I was observing news from Poland in astonishment. After the Pope died Polish media were filled only with topics connected to him. Poles were gathering and praying on streets, football fans of competing teams declared suspension of hostility and all concerts or other cultural events were cancelled (I could understand disappointment of people being forced to grief with majority). I myself watched a film about the Pope's life on Danish TV, which I wouldn't probably do in Poland but at that time I felt the need of doing something to be closer to the Polish phenomenon, maybe even to be more Polish (no matter how blurred it might seem). On the other hand I couldn't understand Poles staying abroad and claiming that parties should be cancelled and accusing media of not showing enough interest in the Pope's death. Neither could I understand why the headmaster of my Danish Folk High School during one morning meeting condoled with all Poles from the school. In fact, I felt again forced into the stereotype and I did not know how to react. Should I thank?
Example 4 What Poles don't know about themselves
In fact, facing stereotypes might be the most challenging task. Some of them could be painful, some just funny and unbelievable. Just to indicate some of them: there were 3 girls from Latvia who kept on assuring other students that Poland is famous from producing the worst chocolate in the whole world. During the language assistantship in Husum, one hundred students (from Berufliche Schule des Kreises Nordfriesland in Husum, aged 15 - 26) were asked about Poland, the facts and feelings (Kurowska, 2006). According to the results of the survey , 30 % regarded Poles as the criminals (klauen), 21 % distinguished Poland as the cheap country (ein billiges Land), 17 % indicated that Poles drink a lot of vodka (trinken viel vodka) and the same number of people - 17 % regarded the Polish nation as nice people (nette Leute). 9 % pointed out that Polish people are poor and, finally, 6% believed that Poles eat rats. The unique lesson how we are perceived abroad was surly unforgettable.
Students learn a lot through observation, participation and by dealing with stereotypes. In addition, they also learn form experiencing cultural shock, which generally appears two times. First, when students abroad have to deal with reality which is easy to be found as somehow odd. Then, when students come back home and discover that the country - they were spokespersons of before - has already changed. They have lost something from their own culture. They do not fully understand what is happening again.
Learning as an addiction? Edit
In many cases going to another place to learn is a students' crowning achievement, especially when it is taken at the end of studies. In this situation the knowledge that they get at the host university do not have any impact on the academic society that they originally came from.
Besides them, there are many international students who - despite being at the host university - are still in the middle of their studies. They are faced with a kind of international students' lifestyle represented by those who travel from place to place just using possibilities that are waiting. It takes time in front of the computer to become familiar with the wide offer of available scholarships. As a result some students loose something from their stay abroad, because they spare no effort to sustain the travelling way of life. Probably, even though they seem to be very engaged in a university's life, no certain university is a permanent part of their identity. In other words, it can lead to situations where the university is considered to be a kind of a tourist office.
Definitely, there are also students who are attracted to the educational aspect of travelling and not to travelling itself. In both cases searching and applying for next scholarships all over again keeps students busy. The best proof that studying abroad is already the students' lifestyle is that already now (writing these words) some of us are participating in international educational projects abroad (Germany, Catalonia) and still there are plans to take part in other scholarships/projects in the near future. To show it a broader context, we can add that among 46 Gdansk students with the Erasmus experience (Kowzan, 2005), 52% said that they are going to travel taking another scholarship.
This paper has given an account of the different sources of learning while studying abroad. This study has found that international students can generally benefit from almost all aspects of their stay in a foreign country - from attending academic courses to spending free time with other foreigners. However, looking at all the examples presented in this paper, the following conclusions can be drawn:
- some of the sources of learning (such as attending courses, using libraries or establishing contact with the local people) require students to make some effort and actively search for knowledge, information or skills
- there is also a lot of educational input to be gained (e.g. some knowledge about the host country, different educational systems) even by the more passive students - simply be the fact of encountering differences being with people with different cultural background
Therefore, even if the number of hours spent at the host university is lower than at the home university, students may still learn significantly more during their stay abroad. What is more, this knowledge - being the one students have experienced and not derived from books - is especially willingly shared with others, which is also why this article was written.
- Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J.-C. (1990). Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. 1970. (Richard Nice, Trans.). London: Sage Publications.(Original work published 1970).
- Kowzan, P., (2005). Aktywności studentów Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego w czasie wolnym podczas wymiany w ramach programy Sokrates Erasmusa w zimowym semestrze roku akademickiego 2004/2005. URL: http://nastyku.w.interia.pl/integracja.htm#erasmus
- Kowzan, P., (2005). Sens studiowania w Jaruplund Hojskole. Not published.
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