After studying for a full academic year in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I’m ready to return home and share my experiences with family and friends. Studying abroad has forced me to ponder realities about myself and society. I feel more mature as a result. I’ll think about my experiences for many years to come. However, studying abroad isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot of hard work. But if you’re up for a challenge, here are a few tips that could help you maximize your time abroad.
- The truth about studying
I used to think that reading was the same as learning. I remember reading War and Peace for hours, engaging and reacting, and the next day when I was asked to recall Andrei and Natasha’s waltz, I had no idea what my professor was talking about. Studying a language is the same. I was naïve to think that doing homework, participating in class and meeting with my language partner once a week automatically gave me greater understanding of Russian. I was mistaken. Completing your duties is not the same as learning, or studying—it’s only the first step. Don’t get me wrong, these activities are great practice, but the ultimate goal when learning a language is to store new information in your long term memory. For the next step you must work overtime and have a curiosity in learning. Making flashcards, reviewing assignments, leisure reading in the target language are ways to study. Find a way to stay engaged, so that you’ll maximize your time abroad!
- Make hard work count
Learning a language is no easy task, especially abroad. Schoolwork is hard enough. Conjugating verbs, declining nouns and so on can feel like solving a math problem on the spot. Plus, the fear of making a mistake can bog you down. This isn’t what working hard should be. However, this is often the case. The key is to stay organized, so that you can declutter your mind, complete the duties that are expected of you and make your hard work actually count. I noticed that students who followed a planner made more progress not only because they managed their time better, but also they had a better sense of their goals. Hard work should be focused on mastering the material, not playing a game of catch-up.
- Rediscovering yourself
It is likely if you arrived as an introvert you will return as an introvert. In fact, you will only rediscover yourself. You might gain confidence in public speaking, but you won’t find yourself breaking out of your cocoon and becoming a social butterfly. My first semester I had to give a presentation nearly everyday, but that didn’t mean I became less shy. I had good days and I had bad days—but I never got better. Waste no time on realizing your social limitations. Choose activities with your preferences and personality type in mind. Be sure to choose a host family or activities that prolong your energy expenditure.
- Breaking self supremacy
While abroad, notice how society functions in spite of your values, philosophy and permission. For example, most people in Kazakhstan and Russia don’t say excuse me when they need to get by on the metro or grocery aisle—they just get by. This behavior will take an attitude readjustment of cultural norms. Humility is the the best attitude to have when learning. Don’t expect an entire society to reinvent itself simply because you find it backwards, inefficient, immoral or offensive. After all, you’re a student, you’ve come to learn about your host country’s culture—you’re not a prophet who’s been summoned to teach your host country about true democratic values or food ethics. Dispel any myths of supremacy by understanding the context of each society before making your own assertions. Ask questions and try new things until you satisfy your curiosity. A humble posture promotes true learning and preserves the dignity of those around you.
By: Telmo Falope
Program: Russian Language & Area Studies, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Term: Academic Year 2018-19