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Do's and Don'ts: A recent abroad student provides conversation tips to best support friends as they re-adjust to life on the ‘Mont

Views 237 | Time to read: 5 minutes | Uploaded: 3 - 10 - 2015 | By: Katherine Kwong

It’s March. School has settled into a more or less manageable routine and many are happy to reunite with good friends who have come back from their abroad semesters. Friendships with peers who were abroad was sometimes limited to just liking photos on Facebook.

Being away for a semester can create all sorts of oddball questions about study abroad, such as whether or not students were allowed to drink alcohol, what their accommodations were like and how did they actually study?

It’s understandable that “How was it?” or “What was your favorite part?” are the typical questions people ask to learn more about abroad semesters. Sometimes however, those questions are overwhelming for someone who has just spent three and a half months steeping in another culture and country.

To aid conversations and to keep the experiences of study abroad students fresh, here are some helpful “ask” or “don’t ask” questions. This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully one that will generate insightful conversation.

Please don’t ask . . .
1.What was your favorite part/place/thing that you did?
What’s unique about abroad semesters is that they are made up of not only awesome visits to historical sights, amazing hands-on learning and curious cultural interactions but also little moments like getting lost, sharing time together walking in a park or having an adventure deciphering public transportation. To us, those moments are equally important to seeing pieces of the Berlin Wall or experiencing full language immersion. Asking what one favorite part/place/thing may be convenient, but it deprives friends of giving a richer explanation and doesn’t give the best summary of a semester abroad.

2.“I’d love to hear more about it, we should get coffee some time.”
People coming off of abroad semesters have just spent three and half months with the same group of people. One on one conversations with a friend who stayed on campus are refreshingly welcome as they afford ample opportunity to share in depth. However, life gets crazy and studies mount up. Following up with actually getting coffee with your friend would be appreciated. Not following up on this sort of invitation can hurt friends who want to share their experiences. Living intentionally is a concept explored in all abroad semesters. Students can begin to strive together to embody this in day-to-day interactions on campus as well.

Please ask:
1. What was one of your favorite sensory experiences (sight, touch, taste, smell, sound) and what memories do you have associated with that sense?
This is a really creative question with some thought behind it. Friends will be more likely to give a thoughtful answer if the question expresses thoughtfulness. While abroad, students experience a range of new experiences that engage all the senses. Grounding memories with specific sensory associations is something students do consciously and unconsciously, thus it can be really fun to sift through those memories again and select one to describe and share.

2. What is something you started while you were abroad that you’d like to continue here?
This is a question that allows friends to be involved in the reentry process. Lots of students come back with habits, hobbies, interests and even full-fledged disciplines they are eager to integrate into their lives upon returning to Westmont. Inquiring about these interests is a good way to keep friends accountable with practices they want to bring back from the abroad experience. It also gives us an opportunity to include friends in something they’ve experienced and enjoyed.

3. Be creative, be curious and ask the unexpected.
Friends may consider what they want to ask about abroad student experiences. Abroad students are also considering the best way to communicate their travels. Asking questions about the landscape, the dominant colors of the buildings, favorite meals and what classes were like all serve to bring experiences to life.
If there is something one is curious about, whether it be a cultural difference, how on earth friends packed for four months or what the oddest experience was: don’t hesitate to ask. Curiosity is really underrated and if genuine interest is involved, it can lead to a really fun, fresh conversation.

While the unxpected may catch a friend off guard within the first few weeks, now that it is later into the semester, people are likely more comfortable with sharing their experience. Hitting curveball question can be an excellent way to reawaken the insights students gained while abroad. Friends want to bring experiences and insights from abroad back to Westmont and hopefully these questions can kickstart an adventurous conversation.

Photo Courtesy of Katherine Kwong


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