You know how it is preached in the Study Abroad 101s to not be ignorant of your home country’s politics, current events, and whatnot? During my fall semester abroad, I was the person whose knowledge about U.S. current events was really not that extensive. You may be thinking what an ignorant, lazy study abroad student. Wrong! Culturally immersed study abroad student.
You see, my first semester abroad was intensive Chinese language immersion. The way I saw it, stopping my intake of everything U.S.-related would not do much harm (with the exception of the Presidential Debate). Granted, I stayed in contact with people back home, but other than whatever was on my Facebook news feed when I uploaded photos, not a lot of American news reached my ears.
Why? I listened to Chinese music. I tried to read (with much difficulty) Chinese news sources. I listened to Chinese podcasts and spent 11 hours of my day in classrooms studying the language. I lived with a host family that spoke no English and had a Chinese news source as my browser homepage.
First semester my goal was to be immersed in the language. To me, the tradeoff of knowing less about U.S. happenings was worth the gains I made in my Chinese language and cultural knowledge. My second semester abroad I took a Chinese Media Studies class, during which I read an equal amount of Chinese and American news sources to compare the reporting styles and contents of the articles.
Every student in my program was immersed on different levels. One student only hung out with Chinese students and watched Chinese dramas with them. Another student always spoke English after class, breaking the language pledge all students had signed at the start of the semester. Each student had his or her own level of cultural immersion. Like I said earlier, my knowledge on American art or business was not as vast as when I was in the U.S., but on the up side I was up to date on Chinese events and surrounding myself with Chinese helped me achieve a level of speaking confidence I was proud of.
Just as students can be not culturally immersed when they go abroad, it is entirely possible for students to be completely culturally immersed. Hopefully you are more immersed than not; learning about cultural norms and the vernacular of your host country is one of the best ways to become familiar with the history and pop culture of where you are studying. Of course, there will always be different levels of immersion; how much you engage is up to you. Just don’t be afraid to give up some things you would normally rely on in the States. Who knows, you may even bring some cooler traditions back home with you.
– Michelle Yeager, DUSA Peer Advisor