Cultural Immersion Tips
One of the factors that differentiates off-campus study from a vacation or other travel is the opportunity to connect more deeply with your host culture over a longer time. For example, many students recall the friendships they've made with local students and host families when reflecting on the most impactful aspects of their off-campus experiences. However, these friendships take time. It can be difficult to form these deeper connections if you prioritize traveling.
Below are a few tips to help you engage more deeply with your host culture during your off-campus experience:
- Learn from your host family and/or other students. What holidays occur during your off-campus study program, and how do locals usually celebrate? What do the members of your host family or other local students in your classes do on weekends?
- It's okay to have weekends with no plans! Having free time allows you to be spontaneous and participate in local events around your host community.
- If you choose to travel outside of your host country, consider selecting a smaller number of areas you are particularly excited to visit rather than trying to fit in as many places as possible. (For example, if you had a weeklong spring break during your semester, consider visiting one or two cities, rather than a different city every day.) Not only will this save you from spending your free time in transit from one place to another, but it will allow you to more meaningfully engage with the places you choose to visit. Avoid reducing countries and cultures to destinations to "check off" of a list.
- Prioritize your academics. If you traveled every weekend during a semester a St. Lawrence, it may be very difficult to stay on-track with your academic work. It is the same during an off-campus study experience. Keep track of your deadlines for key assignments, and strive to find a balance between your curricular and extracurricular experiences.
Sonja Wolke ‘20
Something really valuable about the opportunity to study abroad in a country that speaks another language is the ability to completely immerse yourself. The SLU program in Madrid provides students with a variety of classes taught entirely in Spanish and a welcoming homestay family excited to speak with you and help you practice outside the classroom every day. In addition to the language is the cultural immersion as well. There is no better way to learn about Spanish society than living in it! For this reason, I did not travel outside of Spain often during my semester there. The country has many diverse landscapes and cultural distinctions within its different regions, even with the class excursions and my own trips I still left Spain with so much more I wanted to see and do! You may only be given the chance to live with a Spanish-speaking family once, and if your goal is to completely engage with the culture and become fluent in the language, I would strongly encourage you to explore Spain while you’re there and save the rest of Europe for later.
Jennifer Evans '19
As I began my semester in Spain I had two main goals; the first to improve my Spanish as much as possible and the second to immerse myself as seamlessly as possible into my family’s daily lives as well as the overall culture of Spain. While many students studying abroad in Europe spend each weekend in a different city, I found the best way to achieve my goals was to spend as much time as possible in Spain, but this was not limiting at all! Spain is a very diverse country in terms of landscapes and culture, and each time I travelled out of Madrid to a different part of Spain, I felt I was leaving the country. Apart from being exposed to the varying cultures and norms of Galicia, Andalusia, Barcelona, and Mallorca, I also was able to listen to the various accents that differ as one travels around Spain. All while staying in Spain I travelled to tiny villages, bustling cities, hiked in mountains, and dipped my toes in the Mediterranean. As I ended my semester, while there remained a large list of areas in Spain I did not have the chance to see, I felt accomplished in getting to know the various parts of the country I called home for four months instead of jetting to a different country every weekend.
An additional aspect to immersing oneself in the Spanish culture is spending time with the host family. It didn’t take long before I felt I was the fourth child of my host mom. During my lunch and dinner times I felt I was able to improve my Spanish the most as my family sat around for sometimes over an hour chatting about our days and the current happenings in Spain. By the end of the semester, I was just as sad to part with my host family as I was with the incredible country of Spain. My goal was to study abroad in Spain and immerse myself in this culture, not experience tidbits of every culture in Europe.