Packing for, preparing for and financing a study abroad program can be difficult, but for most students the hardest aspect of studying abroad comes at the end of the trip — returning home.
In the past few weeks, an abundance of MSU students have spent time readjusting to American culture, timezones and food as they are just now returning from summer study abroad programs.
Office of Study Abroad Executive Director Brett Berquist said about 2,000 students choose to study abroad during the summer, more than any other time of year. He said the reason behind the popularity of summer study abroad programs is simple — convenience.
“As a public institution we find a lot of our students during the summertime work and try to get coursework out of the way,” Berquist said. “In choosing study abroad, they can take programs (that are) shorter than the regular semester, essentially being gone for a shorter period of time.”
The 300 study abroad programs MSU facilitates span all seven continents and range in duration from 10 days to six weeks, although Berquist said a 10-day study abroad program is not typical.
“Most of the summertime programs grant MSU credits and count towards a degree. They are credits students would have paid for anyway. We have actually found that students who study abroad generally graduate one semester faster,” Berquist said.
But Berquist stresses the “intenseness” of the experience, both the transition to a new culture and the switch back to the States. It jolts students out of their comfort zone and leads to cultural and personal awareness.
Going Abroad, Then Going Home
Even though media and information senior Abhilasha Singh was born in India, returning there for her summer study abroad program was a unique kind of culture shock — one that came with leaving her home country at only 8 years old, and returning more than a decade later.
“Going there I was like, ‘Oh I know the language, it’s very similar to the culture,’ but in India as soon as you leave your native state you’re pretty much a foreigner because the language changes every five kilometers,” Singh said, emphasizing the country’s 22 official languages and broad, multicultural composition.
Singh said her study abroad trip, entitled “Beyond Bollywood: Taste of Indian Media,” was always packed with activities and sights to see, so when she returned home for the summer, the lack of a rigid schedule was a shock.
“When we came back it was at least a week to take it all in, our schedule was so go, go, go, and we saw so many amazing things we never got the chance to take it in,” she said. “But it hit us on the last night when we had a bit of time to ourselves to pack and reminisce.”
Besides the abundance of free time, adjusting to a new time zone also gave Singh difficulty.
“Jet lag was really bad; I didn’t leave my room for two days,” she said. “There’s about a 20-hour time difference between here and India.”
Amol Pavangadkar was the lead instructor in “Beyond Bollywood: Taste of Indian Media,” and had his own struggles transitioning back to the states.
Besides reconnecting with family and friends he left behind for multiple weeks while during the study abroad program, Pavangadkar said the culinary swap from India to Michigan has been a sad one.
“After returning back to the U.S. we’re still getting used to the food,” he said. “We had access to whatever we wanted in India, and back to reality and regular mac ‘n cheese I think has been a major adjustment.”
In addition, the population in India varies greatly from the sparse MSU summer campus.
“There are people everywhere, crowds of people every minute in India,” Pavangadkar said. “People returning to the U.S. will notice a lack of companionship and won’t see many people around them.”
Making the Most of Study Abroad
Office of Study Abroad peer advisor and MSU alumna Taylor Sandweg went on her first study abroad program during the summer prior to her freshman year — and the transition back to MSU was not difficult enough to deter her from participating in another study abroad program.
So two summers ago, Sandweg went on a second study abroad experience — she interned in India. After returning, Sandweg knew she wanted to play an integral part in helping other students participate in study abroad programs, so she became a peer advisor at the Office of Study Abroad.
“I wanted to get the word out there about study abroad,” she said. “No one in my family had ever studied abroad, it just wasn’t something we talked about, but I wanted to be someone to show students who want to study abroad, if I can, you can as well.”
Packaging senior Olivia Sabbagh studied abroad this summer at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy from May 15 to June 21, but said the transition back to America wasn’t bad despite the late-night sleeplessness.
“I had a direct flight back to America and arrived at 3:30 p.m. our time, 9:30 p.m. Italian time,” Sabbagh said. “Some nights we would be up until 3 a.m. so the time change wasn’t hard to get used to on the way back.”
Because Italy has a strong American presence, the cultural transition wasn’t hard to make for Sabbagh either.
At the end of her experience, Sabbagh said she was left with a newfound appreciation for MSU’s campus, American professors and her classmates.
“All the people I met I will be friends with for a long time, and most of them being from Michigan State is great because I can still see them throughout the year and maintain that friendship,” she said.