How can universities provide better intercultural skills training and coping strategies to outgoing students to make them more mindful of problems and how to make solutions on the YA?

I have completed two years abroad, in Spain and Mexico. Spain was largely a very positive experience, however my experience in Mexico was not at all apart from the travelling. I'm interested in universities developing workshops and other initiatives to develop students develop intercultural competence so they are empowered spending time abroad and adapting to the new culture/ surroundings and ultimately, reduce the risk of mental health issues and allow the experience to be more productive. I am fed up of people saying 'you have to be more open minded' when I am struggling with the culture or that 'it's just part of the process'. I agree that there is a process we pass through when learning about and living in another culture, however we need more open discussion about things and less bravado of being able to cope wonderfully. Part of the reason I endured the rest of my stay in Mexico was because, as a graduate, I was ashamed to come home and deeply believed this reflected me as a failure, for giving up the place I worked for with such determination and for appearing as if I was unable to adapt to the culture. As a keen budding interculturalist leaving the placement, in my mind, would have been detrimental to my future career development. I'll look forward to hearing others' views about what activities and support we can develop and offer to students.

  • Florence Robson · 4 years ago

    Hi there,

    I think this is a really interesting idea with lots of potential. The only year abroad meeting I had during the academic year before I left was focused on the 'Whats' of a year abroad - what you're going to do there, what grants are available, etc. It would have been really useful to have had a talk or workshop preparing for culture shock.

    I think it would be great to talk to pre-departure year abroad students about how to prepare mentally for a year abroad, how to deal with down days once they're out there, how to recognise the difference between homesickness and depression (both in themselves and in a friend), who to contact if they need help (so that study abroad departments aren't overrun). 

    As for activities promoting intercultural skills, perhaps it would be useful for students to attend destination specific talks given by 4th years addressing the 'culture shock' they might experience in that particular year abroad location.

  • Frances @ Queer Abroad · 4 years ago

    I think the idea of it being given by 4th years is a really good point. I went to a preparation talk thing but they were trying to cover *everyone* incl people going to China, Japan, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe! Much of this advice needs to be country-specific.And the "how to deal mentally" thing sounds great and imho should be given at the start of every uni year ANYWAY, as each year holds it's challenges! One thing people would need to be careful of is giving generalised advice that leaves a lot of people out. I find a lot of the "just get out there!!"1!" advice is bad for an often-depressed introvert like me! And I also think it would be helpful to get students with specific issues in touch with each other (what we're trying to do for LGBT+ students at queerabroad.com) but I don't know how universities could help with this? Sometimes the group of people is so small you might not find people in other years.Another idea might be to get Erasmus and international students at your university to meet up with people who will be doing YA next year? One thing that has really helped me and a couple of others is having people we know in our host countries who were at *our* uni last year! (In my case Portuguese students who have studied at Cambridge)

  • Lily Morris · 4 years ago

    I think it would be good for the returning 4th year students to talk to the second years.

    It would be especially good if there were master lists somewhere that people could contribute to of random little bits of information, like (for Germany):

    - you CAN get baked beans which taste pretty good at Kaufland

    - peanut butter is very available and cheap, don't believe the rumours tot he contrary

    - applicator tampons, on the other hand.... nope. 

If you would like to contribute to this question, please login or register.