One reality, however stereotypically American it may be, is that many students who are considering the option of studying abroad are also considering the limitations and laws on alcohol consumption in the country of their interest.
However important this idea may be to students, there are also many other useful tips and precautions that students must learn about before immersing themselves into a new culture.
Tina Williams, study abroad programs coordinator, once attended a conference where a speaker made an analogy about the wonders of alcohol consumption for students abroad.
“He started out by explaining that chewing gum is illegal in Singapore. It is not sold anywhere, and it is only used for therapeutic purposes. Much like there are restrictions in the United States on alcohol, there are the same restrictions in Singapore for chewing gum,” said Williams. “When a student comes to the U.S. where chewing gum is everywhere, it just seems so awesome that he or she must get involved in the hype of gum. This is a great comparison to alcohol, but the idea students need to remember is, everything in moderation. The urge to get sloppy makes that ugly American profile abroad.”
One student, Hilary Larson, a Spanish major who studied abroad in Spain last summer said that the consumption of alcohol seemed to be much more common in Spain than it is in the United States.
“It seemed very common at dinner and was a must at social events,” said Larson. “The laws also seemed to be much more lenient. Open containers weren’t an issue, and no one in my group was ever carded while purchasing alcohol or attempting to get into a bar or a club.”
Williams said that while this is the case in many countries outside the United States, she cannot reiterate enough the importance of moderation.
“The question students must ask themselves is, ‘Would I do it back home?'” said Williams. “We don’t want to scare students with boundaries and limitations, but you must use your common sense. It will not only be beneficial, but also educational to your experiences.”
There are also many other, equally important, concerns overlooked by the more than 400 students coming and leaving Washburn who chose to study abroad.
Williams said that many students both coming to and leaving the U.S. to study abroad don’t consider what transportation methods they will be using upon arrival at their new country.
“In many countries, public transportation is the main way students will get around. Students must research times of day that are good for travel, areas of town to avoid, and not make assumptions based on their experiences back home,” said Williams. “The same happens for students coming to the U.S. We have had students take a taxi from the airport in Kansas City to Topeka because that’s just what they’re used to back home.”
Packing is also an issue that many students find themselves stressing about, primarily with over-packing. Too much stuff makes for difficult traveling. Williams suggests that the essentials should suffice, and expensive items, especially those with a power cord should be left at home.
“Being overseas where outlets and voltage are different, you are almost guaranteed to burn something out like your Chi [hair straightener],” said Williams.
Carrying on with the “only essentials” theme, many U.S. universities and host universities encourage their exchange students to leave the valuables at home. Countless places that students travel are tourist capitols of the world, which unfortunately means that the pick-pocketing and thievery is present in the community.
“It is very important to be aware of your immediate surroundings at all times,” said Williams. “It’s okay to be overwhelmed with everything around you, but don’t let your guard down; people are looking for you.”
Illnesses and culture shock are also two very important issues that students should research and be aware of before leaving home. The Center for Disease Control has a website which lists breakouts, diseases and recommended vaccinations for every country in the world, many countries broken down by region. The Shawnee County Health Department also has a travel clinic where this information can be obtained, and where vaccinations can be received.
Although there is no medicinal cure for culture shock, the more research a student does on their destination, the more prepared her or she will be for the changes when he or she gets there.
“I know it’s a nasty topic, but traveler’s diarrhea happens frequently,” said Williams. “Always pack Imodium A-D and Pepto Bismol caplets.”
For students leaving Washburn, the International House also takes extra measures to ensure students’ questions are answered before they embark on what could be the most educational experiences of their lives.
On April 8, the Study Abroad Orientation will take place, with information session covering a wide variety of topics from safety to pre-departure check lists.
“We take every measure we can to prepare students to take the journey of their lifetimes,” said Williams. “Our hopes are that they have life-changing experiences and that maybe they’ll sign up to go on another trip or a longer trip.”