A social investment

February 07, 2020

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GOING abroad comes with its fair share of homesickness and culture shock as if one were trying to catch a fast-moving train, but when we consider the kind of social investment it turns out to be, all of those ailments are easily forsaken.

Spending time as a student among an incredible variety of cultural backgrounds, languages, fashion and attitudes causes one to appreciate not just interpersonal differences but also the baggage of societal upbringing that tags along with it.

It brings an exposure to the host country and the countries of those interacting with you, which is incomplete without a keen personal connection to the individual. So how does this multi-faceted interaction manifest into personality traits, and what exactly are those characteristics which everyone talks about?

For undergraduate students who have not had the exposure outside of their homeland, the prospect of being alone, independent and communicative solely in a completely new place does seem daunting initially. However, these students take strides in self-confidence while dealing with fellow international students, teachers and even bureaucrats.

Hamza, who studies in The Netherlands, describes an experience of watching students debate fiercely with their professors, something that would be deemed disrespectful in a traditional setup. “I have become more confident and upfront. The Dutch really value that,” he says.

Researches have confirmed that self-confidence also develops as a result of feeling independent, which, in turn, stems from a variety of factors. Seemingly trivial things like housework, cooking, doing the laundry, and slightly complicated functions like financial budgeting, planning and timing routes in public transport, all develop a sense of responsibility and independence which is further cemented as students draw lessons from their mistakes.

When one is faced with a climate that is different from what they were initially conditioned with, it becomes an exercise of comparing the present with the past. This might result in the famous ‘culture shock’ phenomenon.

Exposure to cross-cultural setups goes way beyond the domain of mere academic qualifications.

On this notion, Hamza comes to terms with individualism, which is rarely cultivated back home, stating: “I come from a culture where you don’t always say what you mean in order to spare others of feeling embarrassed or to avoid hurting feelings. It is normal to be economical with truth, especially when dealing with adults”.

However, the Dutch, as individuals, have an upbringing that is in stark contrast. “I have come to realise that the Dutch are very direct and this has led to situations in which I felt like someone had taken offence to what I was saying, when the fact was that they were just being extremely direct as it is in their culture to do so,” he says. Thankfully, there is a way around when you are trying to contend with these differences while staying true to your roots.

Komal, who is a first-year student in the US, states: “It is a different environment since you are not answerable to anyone for your actions. As such, it is important to constantly self-evaluate and have conversations with yourself to stay grounded.”

It is evident from both these experiences that our perspectives could not be challenged in a better way. In moments like these, the need to stay close to our families at heart and seeking their reassurances is more apparent than ever. “It was definitely tough when I missed my family and friends, but it is important to constantly communicate with the best people in your life,” advises Komal.

As much as the experience might be overwhelming, students recall anecdotes with a sense of accomplishment at having a chance to test themselves and thus advance their emotional resilience. According to research, this corresponds with an increase in psychological well-being and self-satisfaction once the culture shock has passed.

It is interesting that studying in another country can result in an increase in the students’ appreciation of arts, history and literature, as shown by studies. European countries, such as England, France, Italy and Spain, open their doors to monuments, artworks and spaces that have witnessed and depicted centuries of historical advancements which changed the world.

In some cases, students have sought international study as a means to channel their fascination surrounding the culture of the host country. This broadens the lens through which they may go on to evaluate social and cultural conflicts back home.

Additionally, students develop an awareness of the host country’s governmental and economic policies, political climate and even social hierarchies in a process that involves not just necessary coursework but interpersonal relations too.

Being surrounded with individuals having different origins is bound to make one an inquisitive conversation starter in an international setting which goes on to develop open-mindedness.

On the flipside, the notion of ‘reverse culture shock’ is certainly legitimate. Students come back home with a somewhat alien feeling about what they left behind, and find their newfound liberal values questioning widely-held beliefs which tend to propagate misinformation and ignorance.

However, this is beneficial for social change, and individuals with cross-culture exposure possess an ability to bring that about. And so with all these priceless aspects of personal development having been established, is there really any reservation on whether studying abroad is worth its while?

Researches conducted over decades, and individual accounts stand testimony to the fact that there would be nothing better than going abroad and having exposure to cross-cultural interactions.