László Munteán - Foto Sarah Danz
László Munteán - Foto Sarah Danz

Studying Abroad: Why Would You? | Academic Affairs by intercultural communication researcher Noemi Mena Montes and cultural scholar László Munteán

Why would you pack your bags? Students who go abroad attend courses taught by the top of their disciplines, they get to know other cultures, or they just have fun in the ERASMUS party bubble. How does a time abroad shape you? And what do you learn from the culture shock? Learn from intercultural communication researcher Noemi Mena Montes and cultural scholar László Munteán about the deeper questions about studying abroad.

 Podcast

Thursday 12 October 2023 | Lecture Hall Complex, Radboud University| Radboud Reflects See annoucement.

 

Review 

By Liesbeth Jansen | Photos by Sarah Danz

Why would you leave your home and study abroad? In the Radboud Go Abroad Week, program writer Adriaan Duiveman spoke with intercultural communication researcher Noemi Mena Montes and cultural scholar László Munteán.

Students as subsidized tourists?

Adriaan Duiveman started with a rather provocative question: Are international students not just glorified, subsidized tourists? László Munteán laughed: “The distinction is indeed far from clear cut. Exchange students are often engaged in a lot of touristic activities. Tourism however is related to leisure, whereas studying obviously is not. Additionally, students usually spend more time in the places they visit than tourists, so they have different experiences and types of engagement with the places they go to.”

Noemi Mena Montes - Foto Sarah Danz
Noemi Mena Montes - Foto Sarah Danz

Culture shock

Spending time in a culture different than your own may also lead to a culture shock. But what exactly is a culture shock? Noemi Mena Montes: “The first phase of being in a new country can be described as the honeymoon phase: everything that is different, is somehow cool, even the things that annoy you. But if you stay longer, this experience may change. For example, when I came to The Netherlands, I was amazed by the amount of planning people here do.”

László Munteán sees many of his international students fall prey to culture shock. “They usually arrive in Nijmegen in August or early September. When it gets to October, the weather and also the mood changes. They exit the honeymoon phase. Therefore, we use this time to organize a meeting for international students to talk about their experience. That helps a lot. They realize that they are not alone in this.”

Noemi Mena Montes thinks that students themselves can also lower their chances on suffering from culture shock before they leave their home country. “The more information you have before you arrive, the better. But of course there will always be things that surprise you.” Munteán: “That’s why it is good to share with other students in the same situation, so it can become a communal experience.” “Sometimes,” Mena Montes reacted, “you need this bubble of international students. But at the same time you always have to get out of your comfort zone.”

Adriaan Duiveman, Noemi Mena Montes en László Munteán - Foto Sarah Danz
Adriaan Duiveman, Noemi Mena Montes en László Munteán - Foto Sarah Danz

Existential questions

What about doing the exchange program online? Both Munteán and Mena Montes agreed that this is not the same at all. You would not be able to feel your own otherness, Munteán claimed. You only reach this point by being thrown into an environment where the things that you have taken for granted turn out to be typical for your home country or region. “Apart from that,” Noemi Mena Montes added, “you want to walk the streets and taste the food. It’s a personal experience that you can’t replace with books or knowledge. Everybody can go abroad. But of course, a mentality of open-mindedness are curiousness is helpful.” Munteán: “Being in the void and out of your comfort zone triggers existential questions and learning. You can’t do that from your computer screen.”

Avoiding the McDonalds experience

What can exchange students give back to the community and the country they visit? Munteán: “Tourism is both wonderful and destructive. It raises many ethical issues, especially because some developing country are very much dependent on tourists. If you are a student and thus have more time to spend than a tourist usually does, you can seek out the possibilities for things to do that are not disruptive. And do not go to McDonalds.” Students going abroad, Munteán argued, should circumvent those things that are offered as the easy options for tourists. With the help of local students, you can find out how locals can really benefit from your visit. If they do so, students would return more open minded and with more self-awareness. Mena Montes agreed. “The world would be a better place if more students travel, but only if they have the right attitude. It will help us produce other narratives than the easy, polarizing stories about others we often hear.”

How to befriend the locals

A part of this right attitude is curiosity and openness. Yet, a student arriving in a foreign country can also be confronted by weary or shy local students. How can you make friends with them? Noemi Mena Montes: “There is no easy answer, because making friends is different in different countries. For example, I always advise exchange students in The Netherlands to get a hobby, because that is the way to get to know new people here. In other countries, the notion of ‘having a hobby’ is not so common.” László Munteán: “Of course it also depends on the personality of the student. People who are more introvert will need different ways to make friends than extraverts.”

Both speakers went abroad when they studied, memories they cherish very much. “Being abroad opened my horizon in many ways, also academically. I moved from literary studies to cultural studies, because I started posing different questions than I would have had I stayed at home.”

Announcement 

Why would you pack your bags? Students who go abroad attend courses taught by the top of their disciplines, they get to know other cultures, or they just have fun in the ERASMUS party bubble. How does a time abroad shape you? And what do you learn from the culture shock? Come and learn from intercultural communication researcher Noemi Mena Montes and cultural scholar László Munteán about the deeper questions about studying abroad.

Adventure

Last year, more than 20.000 Dutch students went abroad. At the same time, more than 120.000 foreign students arrived here. Radboud University champions so-called student mobility, claiming that it increases the quality of education. For many students, however, going abroad is first and foremost an adventure.

Culture shock

Yet, studying abroad is not only fun. It can also be a shock. A culture shock, to be precise. After a phase of excitement, many exchange students experience a cultural confrontation or even crisis. Why does this culture shock occur? And what can we learn from this experience of displacement?

How travelling shapes you

Going abroad always entails some encounter with the strange and quirky elements of another culture – at least, those strange and quirky to you. As such, traveling is also an encounter with yourself and your own background. For many students, their time abroad shapes their lives.

While other sessions during the Go Abroad Week will give you practical tips and tricks for going abroad, this Academic Affairs will revolve around deeper questions. Adriaan Duiveman, program manager at Radboud Reflects, interviews the experts. After that, there is space to ask your own questions.

The program is in English.

About the speakers

Noemi Mena Montes is a communication scholar at Radboud University, specialized in intercultural communication.

László Munteán is a cultural scholar at Radboud University. He teaches the ethics of travelling and tourism.
 

This is a program of Radboud Reflects and the Go Abroad Week.

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Organizational unit
Radboud Reflects
Theme
Diversity, Education, Language, Science