A UNCW staff member will be in Ireland to receive and acclimate the students to college life in Ireland during the first 7 to 10 days of the program. He will remain in contact and support all students throughout their stay. An on-site Maynooth coordinator will also meet regularly with the students and assist them throughout the semester. Finally, Maynooth will match each student with a 'buddy' who will be a current Maynooth student who has just returned from their year abroad/final year student.
Maynooth has a comprehensive array of support services which can be reviewed here.
Being A Good Ambassador and Guest
When studying abroad, you are not only representing yourself, but are also serving as an ambassador for your university, city, state and country. Education abroad can be a wonderful way to create international understanding and to facilitate dialogue between cultures. Please keep the following in mind during your travels:
- Be aware of the feelings of other people, thus preventing what might be offensive behavior on your part. Remember this especially with photography. Always ask permission to take someone's picture - people do not want to be photographed in some cultures.
- Don't just listen and look passively as we may do at home. Practice active listening, observing and greater awareness in communication.
- Realize that people in the country you visit often have time concepts and thought patterns different from your own. Not inferior, just different.
- Discover the enrichment that comes from seeing another way of life through other eyes, rather than looking for the 'beach paradise' of the tourist posters.
- Acquaint yourself with the local customs. What is courteous in one country may be quite the reverse in another (i.e. we consider making eye contact to be a sign of attentiveness and respect, in other cultures it can be considered rude or defiant). Respect local customs.
- Cultivate the habit of asking questions instead of knowing all the answers.
- Remember that you are only one of thousands of visiting tourists. Do not expect special privileges.
- Do not make promises to local people unless you are certain you can fulfill them. "Hey, I'll call you later!" could be taken with more certainty than you intend.
- Do not expect life to be like it is at home. Remember you went abroad to experience something different, not home away from home.
- If you are traveling to a country where English is not the dominant language, never speak to someone in English and expect him/her to answer you in English. A smile and beginning a phrase with "please" in the local language will get you off to a good start. Try to learn the local language, at least how to say, "I am sorry, I do not speak XYZ, do you speak English?"
- What you think of as natural (i.e. normal) behavior may only be cultural (socially constructed). Much of human behavior is universal but certainly not all. Before you project your norms on the human race, consider the possibility that you might be making incorrect assumptions.
- Familiar behaviors may have different meanings. The same behavior- saying "yes", for example can exist in different cultures and not mean the same thing. Just because you've recognized a given behavior, don't assume you've understood it.
- Don't assume that what you meant is what was understood. You can be sure of what you mean when you say something, but you can't be sure how this is interpreted by someone else. Check for signs that the other person did or did not understand you.
- Don't assume that what you understood is what was meant. We all hear what others say through the medium of our own experience. You know what those words mean to you, but what do they mean to the person speaking them?
- You don't have to like or accept different behavior, but understanding where it comes from may help you find ways to deal with it.
- Most people do behave rationally; you just have to discover the rationale.
- Travel in a spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to learn more about the people of your host country.
- Reflect daily on your experiences; seek to deepen your understanding. Journaling is a great way to do this.
Some countries impose strict requirements about what may not be photographed, such as police stations, military posts, etc. Taking a picture of a harbor may seem harmless to you, but it might be construed as a threat to the country's national security. Before you take out your camera, check for any signs posting restrictions or ask an official if it is okay. In some other countries, being photographed is a violation of cultural beliefs. And in others, is used as a means of making money from tourism. Educate yourself about the beliefs of the culture in which you are studying or traveling, and in some cases, be prepared to pay those people whom you photograph.
Holidays, Elections, Political Demonstrations, Major Sporting Events
Educate yourself and be aware of local and national holidays, elections, political demonstrations and major sporting events in your host country. These types of events can sometimes be accompanied by demonstrations in the streets and a disruption of normal travel schedules. If possible, do not plan to travel on days during which these events are taking place. It is also not advised to participate in such demonstrations.
When traveling, consider the cultural appropriateness of your attire and be respectful of the host culture. Sleeveless shirts, shorts or skirts may not be appropriate, and in some cultures, it might be suggested that females cover their hair or neck. Research these customs prior to packing.
Perceptions from Abroad
Be aware that political events or natural disasters in your host country might be in the news at home. News accounts often give a distorted picture of events and a false sense of imminent danger to those not on the scene. If an event happens in the country in which you are studying, please be sure to contact your family and the Office of International Programs to let them know that you are safe and give them a sense of the local situation.
Racial Issues Abroad
In addition to culture shock, students may experience greater acceptance abroad, or perhaps encounter discrimination or racism. Whether, and to what extent, students have such experiences in their dealings with society at large will vary greatly depending on the cultural, socioeconomic and political situation of the host country, and the education level, perceptions and attitudes of the people they encounter. Remember to be aware of your own self-image and expectations, and realize that it is possible that other people's actions might reflect their curiosity about you. Keep in mind your own cultural assumptions when encountering new situations before jumping to conclusions.
The process of mentally, physically and emotionally adjusting to a new environment is commonly known as cultural adjustment, or cross-cultural assimilation. It is a response to being in a situation where everything is different from your previous experiences, including language/slang, food, transportation, body language and everyday activities. One may be elated when first arriving abroad and may not initially attempt to adjust to the local culture or may find the adjustment going smoothly. Cultural adaptation can also be difficult, frustrating, confusing, and include periods of "culture shock."
The Glimpse Foundation has published several guides based on their extensive survey research with study abroad returnees. Here is their description of culture shock and phases of cross-cultural adaptation:
Culture shock manifests itself differently in different people, but research has detected general patterns of emotional highs and lows experienced by international travelers. These phases vary in duration and severity and are not necessarily linear.
Euphoria - The first few hours, days or weeks abroad are often characterized by the excitement of sensory overload. Both adrenaline and expectations are running high, and everything seems new and intriguing. This phase is often referred to as the honeymoon period.
Irritability and Hostility - Once the initial "honeymoon" phase subsides, dissonances between native and host cultures begin to seem more pronounced, and a sense of alienation can set in. Curiosity and enthusiasm about-face, transforming into frustration, insecurity, negativity toward local culture, glorification of home culture, exaggerated responses to minor problems, withdrawal and/or depression.
Gradual Adjustment -With time, you'll begin to orient yourself to a different set of cultural practices and feel increasingly comfortable and confident in your new surroundings. Your sense of humor, which may have been lying dormant for a while, will reemerge.
Reentry or Reverse Culture Shock- Upon returning home, you will be faced with integrating your abroad experience with life in the United States, where you might feel disoriented, out of place, or changed by your experience in a way that makes relating to family and friends difficult.
Cultural Adjustment Strategies
It is perfectly normal to experience some culture shock when you move away from family and friends, live in an unfamiliar environment and try to meet new people. Here are some things to anticipate while abroad and ways to adjust to your new surroundings.
Talk to someone if you have a serious problem. Talk to a fellow student, faculty member, the on-site coordinator or contact the OIP at UNCW or the on-site staff at Maynooth. Realize that you are not alone, and there is someone to help.
Keep your sense of humor. One thing that is almost universal among study abroad students is that they come home with wonderful stories about how much fun they had during their time abroad. If you have a terrible, frustrating day, (or even week) abroad, remember that it will pass. Time has a way of helping us remember only the good things and showing the humor in every situation.
Don't expect local people to seek you out. When was the last time you approached a lonely- looking international person with an offer of friendship? Things are not necessarily any different abroad. If you are not meeting people through your classes, make other efforts to meet them. Take advantage of the university structure to join clubs, sports teams and university functions.
Expect to hear criticism of the United States. Educate yourself about U.S. politics and foreign policies before heading abroad, and be willing to hear an outsider's viewpoint. Remember that such criticism is probably not personal in nature, as most foreigners are able to differentiate between U.S. politics and U.S. citizens.
Expect to feel frustrated. People are going to do things differently in your new setting, and you may not always think their way is better than what you are used to in the U.S. Remember that you are a foreigner and a guest in their culture and should respect these cultural practices.
Expect to feel depressed or alone sometimes. Homesickness is natural, especially if you haven't been away from home before. The best way to combat homesickness is to get involved in your new location and immerse yourself in your new culture. Don't let thoughts of home detract from your ability to make the most of your time abroad.
Keep a journal. A great way to deal with culture shock and to reflect thoughtfully on cultural variances/similarities is to keep a regular journal. As you think about what you write, you may be able to recognize negative reactions resulting from cultural and linguistic unfamiliarity. Use your journal to make meaningful comparisons and as a lasting record of your changing attitudes and of the growth you experienced abroad.
Examine your motives for going. Although you will certainly travel while you're abroad, remember that you're there to STUDY abroad, not go on vacation.
How Others May Perceive You While You Are Abroad
Of course Americans, like any other cultural group, are a collection of individuals and we are extremely diverse! However, most visitors to the U.S. and most cultural anthropologists would argue that as a group, Americans tend to hold the following cultural values, some of which are very different from those of other cultures. (Adapted from American Ways: A Guide for Foreigners in the U.S., Gary Althen.). It may help you to be aware of these assumptions when you are interacting with people from other cultures.
Individualism & Independence: We see ourselves as individuals, responsible for our own situations. We emphasize self-fulfillment. We give choices even to very young children and believe that it's wrong to expect individuals to always sacrifice their wants and needs for the good of the group. We admire individuals who fought their way to the top, do something first or the longest or the best. We define ourselves by what we do, not by our birth situation.
Privacy: We assume that everyone needs time alone. In some cultures one is rarely alone and all translations of the word "privacy" carry a negative connotation of being isolated. U.S. children often have their own rooms and their own possessions. We have rules about confidentiality.
Egalitarianism: We generally express strong belief in the principle that all people are created equal, with equal opportunities; yet most Americans will admit that discrimination (racism and sexism) still exists in the U.S. We tend to enjoy stories of "self-made" individuals who rise from poverty to riches through hard work and initiative. Most Americans believe that individuals control their own destinies; children are told "you can be whatever you want to be." We generally don't like displays of social status- being bowed to, deferred to, etc. We show respect in more subtle ways; tone of voice, order of speaking and seating arrangements (getting the most comfortable chair). Children are often allowed or encouraged to question their parents and "discuss" their parents' decisions. Questioning professors is often highly valued, and bosses often go out of their way to seem like one of the gang. We chitchat with taxi drivers, waiters, bellmen, doctors and lawyers. We give respectable titles to all jobs (sanitation worker).
Time: We are very concerned with time and efficiency and look for faster and more efficient ways of doing things. We talk about not wasting time or about saving time- in many cultures time just is. We value organization and punctuality. We make to-do lists, plan our leisure time, carry calendars and schedules.
Informality: We use first names, even with people older than we are and people who have more social status. We use idiomatic speech, prop our feet up on desks, wear informal clothing on many occasions.
Future-oriented: We are less concerned with history than other cultures (in explaining conflicts, people from other cultures may go back several centuries) We value new things and ideas more than the old- products are advertised as "new and improved." We believe we can and should improve our situation, as in "Don't just stand there, DO something." Some other cultures have more of a reverence for the past and believe that it's arrogant for human beings to believe they can change their fate.
Achievement and Action-oriented: We value hard work and continually want to improve our situation. We feel that we never achieve enough and should always keep bettering ourselves. We are always doing something, and we feel bored or guilty after doing nothing for several hours.
Honesty and Directness: We value "getting to the point" more than maintaining "face" (prestige or dignity). We look up to the person who tells us directly and honestly when he is upset about something. We do not like to have a third person mediate. We believe it's important to tell the truth even though it may put us in an unfavorable light. Some other cultures are more concerned with "saving face" and may say something indirectly or put a more positive spin on the situation in order to do so.
Your Cultural Quiz
It is much easier to make observations about and participate in the life style of the target culture you are going to visit if you understand certain basic concepts before you leave. The questions listed below will help you outline important values of the target culture. Apply these questions to your own knowledge of the United States as well. The people you will meet during your visit are quite interested in our way of life and will ask you many of these questions.
- Can you name five prominent Irish individuals who are currently leaders in politics, religion, education, business, banking, the arts (theatre, movies, music, writers, etc.), athletics, military service, women's activities, etc.?
- Can you identify national heroes of Ireland?
- Can you recognize the national anthem?
- You know that English is spoken in Ireland. What other languages are known or used? How many people speak those languages?
- What is the predominant religion? Is it a state religion? Do you understand any of its doctrine or know the names of its prophets?
- What is the attitude of the predominant religion towards other religions?
- What is the most common form of marriage? (Civil - church - common law)
- What is the attitude towards divorce?
- What are the important holidays? How is each observed?
- What is the normal pattern of work days and days off? What are normal working hours? When are stores open?
- How do people spend their leisure time?
- What are favorite recreational activities of the people?
- What games do children play?
- What recreational facilities are available for teenagers?
- What sports are popular for adults - for children?
- What is the attitude towards gambling?
- What is the attitude towards drinking?
- What types of films are shown at local movie theatres?
- How many people own automobiles?
- What local public transportation is available? Who uses it?
- How much traveling is done beyond national borders? What other countries are usually visited?
- Who has the right of way in traffic: vehicles, animals, pedestrians?
- If, as a customer, you touch or handle merchandise for sale, will you be considered knowledgeable, inconsiderate, within your rights, outside your rights?
- What money is used? What are the denominations of bills and coins - what is the exchange rate for U.S. money?
- Is the price asked for goods the actual selling price?
- What is the usual mealtime schedule?
- What are the national dishes?
- What is the equivalent of the American drugstore?
- What is the literacy rate in Ireland?
- Is education free? Compulsory?
- What kinds of schools are considered best: public, private, parochial?
- In schools are children segregated? Race? Caste or class? Sex? Religion?
- How are children disciplined at home? In school?
- At social occasions are children usually present? How about elderly family members?
- In business and social events do people arrive early? On time? Late? Very late?
- On what occasions would you present (and accept) gifts from people? Do some flowers have a particular meaning?
- How do people greet one another? Shake hands? Embrace or kiss? How do they leave one another?
- Are the large circulation newspapers friendly in their attitude towards the U.S.?
- What is the history of the relationships between Ireland and the United States?