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Selling Reality: Why Students No Longer Are Buying the Study Abroad Dream

(Walt Disney built a whole empire out of selling dreams- photo by:yournaperville.com)

Have you ever booked a trip somewhere based off of a picture you saw, a story you read, or a TV show that featured the location? If so, then you bought into a dream. Don’t panic- we all do this (even me). The selling and buying of dreams is critical to almost every industry, especially travel. For example, who would book a trip to Jamaica between June and December if you knew that it was their rainy season? The fantasy of a vacation in Jamaica is relaxing on the beautiful, warm, sunny beach and playing in the clear blue water. If you knew that there was a strong possibility of sitting in your hotel the entire time looking out at dark storm clouds and flash flood rain that lasts for days, you wouldn’t be so excited to go there during those months.

Why do people love buying fantasy?

When we’re down or not doing anything exciting, we dream for excitement. And what’s better than a dream? Nothing! The selling of dreams is a brilliant marketing campaign that works really well forbeverything. It works because it removes us from the mundaneness that can be everyday life and makes us feel how we wish to feel or be who we wish to be without doing much work. However, if you’re not careful, it can also disappoint if you really buy into it.

So how does studying abroad fit into all this?

The study abroad experience is sold as the ultimate dream trip to college students. The academic portion of it is often pushed out of this dream sequence. I have never come across a study abroad program website which features images of students studying or in a classroom as part of their marketing for study abroad. It’s always the students with recognizable sights/monuments, smiling and having a good time. If you come across a study abroad program that doesn’t market the dreamy travel aspect of studying abroad, please tweet it to me @twentyinparis. Anyhoo, it’s no surprise that as a result of this clever marketing campaign, many students go abroad with unrealistic expectations of the experience. Just like the travel website who wants people to book trips to Jamaica during rainy season, the difficulties of the study abroad experience aren’t advertised. As a result, students are shocked and often disappointed that they are treated as a foreigner, not understood when they speak the host language, don’t have stellar grades in classes abroad, have trouble making friends with natives and/or don’t get along with their host family.


studyabroadfrance3(an excellent example of studying abroad marketing – photo by: www.millardlatimer.com)


Does the selling of reality for study abroad make it more desirable?

I’m no marketer or psychologist but I think that reality sells because of two things: 1) It makes us feel better about our situation/ ourselves; 2) It is human nature to seek out truth (that’s the whole goal of philosophy). We know that studying abroad is sold as a dream trip for students but it’s not. Students like you are searching for the truth behind the light-hearted memes about partying and traveling abroad. It’s not to say that studying abroad isn’t an overall great experience. It is. But you know that it comes with its fair share of bad days and hardships. You’re looking for someone to show you the experience uncensored with all its ups and downs. The trend is growing to show the not so pretty parts of the study abroad experience but we are still in the shadows for the most part. Every time I come across a blog/article that shares candid, uncensored experiences about studying abroad, I bring them to you here. And they are some of Twenty in Paris’ most popular posts. What this shows me is that you are not deterred by the truth but rather motivated by it.

What do we do now?

We keep talking about it and asking others to share their study abroad experiences- all of it. Ask your study abroad office to tell you the difficulties you can expect to face with cultural and linguistic immersion, going to class abroad, interactions with your host family. Don’t settle for “every student is different.” Keep imploring for examples of others snafus abroad to better prepare yourself. By finding out the reality of living and studying abroad, you can often eliminate and alleviate a lot of uncomfortable situations. Let’s continue the quest to show the study abroad experience- Uncovered. Uncensored. Unapologetic.


The Many Faces of Studying Abroad

Studying abroad is an emotional journey. You’ll have great days, bad days and everything in between. Here’s a look at some of my favorite study abroad faces. Do you have a study abroad face that you want to share? Tweet it to me @twentyinparis with hashtag #studyabroadface



many faces

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10 Ways Studying Abroad Prepares You for Real Life

(photo by: enteradulthood.com)

Studying abroad is not just a one-time thing you did in college. It’s an experience that will impact your entire life- personal and professional.

1) There is more than 1 way to do something. This may sound like common sense but ask yourself if you tend to do things (daily activities, studying, solving a problem…) the same way all the time. You most likely do- it’s natural to stick to what you know. However, studying abroad is a game changer where you learn that there is more than 1 way to do the same thing…for example boiling water for a pasta dinner. In the USA, we heat a pot of cold water on the stove for what seems like an eternity until it boils and then add in the pasta. In France, they use a bouilloire électrique (an electric kettle) to boil the water. It takes less than a few minutes, then they throw it in the pot on the stove and add the pasta and voilà! pasta in less than 10 minutes. Same delicious meal, two different ways. But it’s not just personal life that will see the benefits- you’re career will too. Knowing how to do things multiple ways will also help you in the work place. In this ever expanding global market, your ability to solve problems / do things differently will help to set you apart from your colleagues as well help you understand and work better with customers / colleagues of various cultures.

2)  There is an art to communication. Studying abroad often means learning a new language (including cultural lingo for other Anglophone countries). You’ll have many situations where someone doesn’t understand you and vice versa. These experiences force you to master the art of communication. And I’m not just talking about hand signals. Speaking a second language makes you to learn how to say something a few ways in trying to find the one that works. This skill of being able to communicate the same thing different ways will be useful in both your personal and professional interactions, especially with people who aren’t native to your culture or language. You’ll amaze everyone with your skills on being to effectively express yourself to anyone.

3) Discover what it means to R-e-s-p-e-c-t and appreciate those different from you. Often we gravitate towards people who are similar to us because it makes us feel a sense of belonging. But when living abroad, you’ll be the different one. Your ability to respect and appreciate the host culture will help you to adapt and learn about it- it’s also the right thing to do! Living amongst people who are different from your native culture is a great way to learn tolerance and acceptance of others. This trait will benefit you personally as well as professionally (remember that global market and workplace).

4) Find out how to be independent.Living in Paris was the first time that I was truly on my own. My family was no longer a short train ride away. For many of you, studying abroad is where you will first truly learn about independence. Sometimes the lessons learned aren’t always so noticeable but you are definitely paving the way for a parent-free (in terms of finances and living situation) life post college. It’s during this experience that you really learn how to handle that noisy neighbor; how you can’t buy that really cute shirt even though you want it so bad because your budget doesn’t allow for it this month; and how to handle a bad day alone without letting it consume you. Adulthood- here you come!

5) Budgets are key to financial health. Budgets are not fun. Period. But they are an important factor to having a healthy financial future (and present). Studying abroad is all about little income and big sight-see lists. If you don’t have your finances in order, you can quickly find yourself low on funds from weekly museum visits. A budget does not take the place of proper planning but it keeps it in check to make sure that you are doing everything you need and want to without going broke. Master this and you’ll be set for life.

6) There is more to life than work. I know, I know- that’s not very American of me but living abroad taught me that.But don’t spend your entire life working – it’s important to stop and smell the roses. Remember, no one looks back at their life and regales the great things they did at work; they think of all the great things they did in their spare time. So don’t forget to forge those memories!

7)  History is not the same everywhere. History should be based on fact but often a country’s opinion of itself gets in the way. It’s interesting to see how the same events are told slightly different depending upon where you are. For example, in the US, we’re not really taught why France and the USA didn’t get along well after WWII. In France, they claim that America wanted to govern France to help rebuild it after the war but the French refused this “offer”. This is probably why I failed my 20th century history classes in Paris- I didn’t recognize the material! Just be prepared to be shocked and don’t try to battle it out with everyone who recounts their version of events.

8) Life is beautiful. If you listen to enough newsfeeds, you’ll be convinced that life stinks and the whole human race is doomed (I know that I get that way sometimes :p). Living in another country and experiencing another culture hands-on at 20 years old is an amazing opportunity. Waking up in a different place and growing to appreciate the new way of life really is a beautiful experience. Remember, even with all its curve balls, life is still beautiful.

9) Traveling is awesome. Even if you don’t get to travel much while abroad, the fact that you’re abroad means you traveled. There is a whole world out there. Have you ever heard someone say “If you stay in one place long enough, the world will come to you”? I’ve heard it before and all I can say is…that is class-A malarkey. Traveling is awesome because it creates a bond between you and others. Sometimes it’s hard to understand that we’re really all the same, just in different environments.

10) Get to really know yourself. Studying abroad is not only the journey of learning a different culture; it’s also the journey of learning about you. Your time abroad will teach you more things about yourself that you never knew before. You’ll find your weaknesses, your strengths, and that your personality is not set in stone. Sometimes these changes are seen during your time abroad and sometimes they surface a few years later. Just remember that the playing field of studying abroad is a way to sow the seeds to a better you.