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Coming home results in brief culture-shock

Lindsay Peters, 22, had always planned on attending medical school. That is, until she left her home in Rockford, Ill., for Costa Rica as a junior in high school.

“One week changed everything,” Peters, now a senior international relations, history and Spanish triple major at Drake University, said. “I really did get the travel bug.”

Peters realized while interacting with native Spanish speakers and living with her host family in Costa Rica that she wanted to learn from people in different cultures and form strong international relationships.

Since attending Drake, Peters has spent a summer in Egypt, a semester in Granada, Spain and a summer in Tunisia.

“It (going abroad) has made me a lifetime advocate for encouraging people to get out of their comfort zones and experience places in the world through firsthand experience,” Peters said. She is one of 307 Drake students who studied abroad from fall 2010 to spring 2011.

Drake shares a larger initiative among universities pushing global engagement, as 273,996 American students went abroad during the 2010-11 academic year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Jen Hogan, associate director of international programs and services and education abroad at Drake, said students are more freethinking when they get away from the influences of other people.

“It’s that space between what is familiar and what is unknown that people figure out who they are,”
Hogan said.

While in Tunisia, Peters spoke with students whom were involved in the Arab Spring riots, the revolution that began in 2010.

“The United States media portrayed the riots as being violent, but I learned that a majority of the protests were scheduled and peaceful,” Peters said. “I never would have known that if I hadn’t been there personally.”

Now, Peters uses every chance she has, whether in class or during casual conversation, to share her newfound knowledge of Arab culture.

“My biggest goal is to break down the stereotypes that people in the United States have about the Middle East and North Africa,” Peters said.

Most American students who study abroad experience a degree of reverse culture shock upon their re-entry into the United States. These effects are intense and mentally exhausting but short lasting, Hogan said.

“The student has grown and changed,” Hogan said. “They have a hard time figuring how to get back into the rhythm of things that are so familiar, but feel so different.”

It’s the long lasting effects, Hogan said, that impact students positively.

“The fascination diminishes unless the student can do something at home to maintain a connection with the culture,” she said. “It’s how well you can articulate your study abroad experience that will allow it to stay with you.”

When Drake student Kevin Riley returned from a four month study abroad experience in Cannes, France, he realized his priorities had changed. Riley changed his field of study from finance to international business.

“I like talking to people from different societies,” Riley said, who took an international business class while studying at the Collège International de Cannes. “I find it interesting the way they do business.”

Riley will take his knowledge of international business into an increasingly globalized economy.

“Virtually every large corporation has a global strategy,” David Skidmore, professor of politics and international relations at Drake, said. “They need students who are comfortable working in a globalized
environment.”

The United States is not the only country encouraging global engagement for students. According to the Institute of International Education, 764,495 international students enrolled in U.S. colleges in 2011.

Drake student Erin McHenry, 21, said living with an Austrian host family and celebrating holidays like St. Nicholas Day, during which St. Nicholas puts candy in children’s shoes, enriched her life.

“It was cool to see what it was like for a child, a teenager and an adult to live in a different culture,” McHenry said. She lived with the Stadler family while in Salzburg — Margaretha, Rudolf and their four children, Maria-Sophia, 16; Elena, 14; Raphael, 11 and Felicia, 7.

McHenry said she’s less quick to judge others now that she has lived as part of a different culture.

“Just because it wouldn’t work for me doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” she said. “I know how different someone else’s life can be.”

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