Connie Morales

Studying abroad can be an incredible opportunity for any student, but when making the decision to jump into a new world, many of us  have questions on how to prepare and what to expect from this journey. Luckily, a few of the study abroad students from the Whittier College community are here to help. Read on and learn what you need to know before hopping on that plane.

Last Friday, Oct. 13, a group of students who have traveled to and come from a variety of places worldwide held a panel hosted by Psychology Professor Chuck Hill. This panel was held to inform prospective Whittier College study abroad students about what they could expect from participating in a foreign exchange program. These students Shintaro Koikawa, Avery Lasch-Posner, Ryota Nomura, Roberto Contreras, and Prescott Sansing. The students answered questions and reflected upon their experiences spending a semester away from their home campus. While you might imagine that some of the most challenging aspects of going to a different country would include things like time-zones, possible language barriers, and getting homesick, these students had other thoughts.

Living in a new place requires adjustment, but there are a few things that may not immediately come to mind, such as the weather. You might think that getting used to different climates or other environmental factors would not be the largest task, but, as noted by the panelists, it can actually take quite some time before you are able to adapt to these unfamiliar weather conditions. Do not forget to do your research before packing your bags, or risk either freezing or melting away. 

Another aspect to take into consideration when getting ready to set sail is that you are probably not going to be able to eat the same meals you usually enjoy. When asked what was surprising about visiting another land, some panelists commented on how different the food served on or near the campus was compared to the what they’d been accustomed to eating back home. If you find yourself feeling homesick for your favorite fast food place, just remind yourself to be open-minded. You never know, you might even fall in love with your new menu. 

 Something else to think about before and during your semester abroad is that different cultures have different customs. This may sound obvious, but there may be certain situations that you may not have thought of yet, such as classroom participation. While commenting and sharing contrasting views on topics in class is a normal aspect of being a student here at Whittier College, it could be considered impolite around other areas of the globe. One of the main reasons people choose to travel elsewhere is that they want to explore and study the  culture of places they have only ever heard of, which is why it’s important to keep that in mind during your visit as you adjust to your new place of residence.

Many of us use public services such as buses or taxi companies, like Uber, to get to where we need to be. However, the panelists shared the fact that,when living somewhere completely foreign to you, it’s not always as easy as tapping a few buttons on your phone. It can be pretty difficult to find your way around and easy to get lost without being informed about the local forms of transportation. Make sure to be careful as you navigate through the maze.

Although the study abroad process can require a lot of planning, the adventure will have a great turn out. “It’s worth it because having a various perspective is important in life,” said  second- year Shintaro Koikawa. “You should take advantage of being in a foreign exchange program and experience everything you can when you study abroad.” Those who had the opportunity to participate in these once-in-a-lifetime experiences advise future explorers to get out of their comfort zones, make the most out of this adventure, and to not just visit popular tourist attractions, but to take the time to really look around. What’s hidden in plain sight may turn out to be what you appreciate most.