OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Living Abroad

Educational Systems

When we find ourselves in a new setting, particularly in a new culture, we often judge and compare everything against "home." We tend to use our own cultural framework to make sense of our observations and experiences.

It is difficult to generalize about different educational systems around the world. Most undergraduate instruction will include lectures, seminars, laboratory sessions, papers and examinations, but that may be the end of the similarities, particularly in a co-sponsored program.

Adjusting to a new system may be compared to the feeling you have in OSU courses prior to taking the first exam. You usually understand the discussion and lectures, but not until you take the first exam do you really understand what you are being asked to retain. You may feel this way throughout your time abroad. Other local students can be good resources to help you understand the material and course expectations. You may also want to meet with your professor at the beginning of the term to find out his or her expectations. You are the new student in this situation, so it is up to you to find out what is expected of you.

Although it may not be explicitly stated in the syllabus, attendance is important. For most study abroad programs, your attendance is essential to your learning. If you miss class and the professor takes the group on a guided tour of a museum, there is no book or class notes you can look at to get this material later. Study abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so take advantage of this learning opportunity.

You may attend lectures, but a larger share of the classroom time may be spent in small tutorial and seminar groups. You may be asked to be an equal contributor to these discussions. Generally speaking, emphasis is put on reading widely and making use of what you have read in essays and during seminars. Your reading will not usually be based on a textbook or directed in the detailed way that is common at OSU. If you are told: "You may wish to have a look at these specific titles," that implies strongly that these books should be read! Do not rely on being told exactly what to do or when to do it.

Do not be deceived by the apparently casual attitude that local students may have towards work and study. While you may see other local students playing instead of studying, you may want to check out the library. In some other cultures, students do not talk about how much they have studied or prepared for a class. While you may not see them studying, rest assured they are studying. In many cases, the professor may be expecting you to be reading on your own and ask you for original research and thought in the exam essays. You will be expected to provide your own motivation and to assume responsibility for your own education and learning, and not simply wait to be taught the course material.

Housing Arrangements

For most OSU study abroad programs, your program will make your housing arrangements for you prior to your arrival. Such arrangements are made for the program dates only. If you intend to arrive earlier or stay any later, you must make your own housing arrangements and be prepared to pay on your own for these additional nights.

You are expected to stay in the housing for the full length of the program and must vacate the accommodations the morning of the day after the official end of the program. If circumstances require that you leave early, you must first obtain permission by notifying, in writing, the on-site coordinator; no refund will be given for early departures. Depending on your destinations, you will either be staying in an apartment, homestay or residence halls. Housing generally includes all necessities such as sheets, pillows, and you will normally have access to public laundry facilities. Check with your study abroad contact for specifics regarding your program.

If you are dissatisfied with your housing, notify your on-site coordinator. Every attempt will be made to correct the situation. Sometimes your on-site coordinator can help you mediate the situation and help you communicate with your landlord or roommates your concerns regarding your living situation. Your on-site coordinator can also help you understand some of the culture differences that may be influencing your situation. Reassignment to another location is sometimes necessary.

Different Types of Housing Abroad

Homestays

A large part of the adventure upon which you are about to embark is your stay with a local host. The relationship you build with your host can be significant in your overall experience abroad. Students frequently say that living with their homestay family is the highlight of their trip. Hosts may be a family, a widow, or a couple. They are experienced in receiving international students and are expected to provide a good environment for students to enjoy and benefit from their stay. They provide you an opportunity to see daily life up close and increase your foreign language skills through daily conversations.

Though your hosts may be curious about and interested in U.S. Americans, it is important to realize that you are a paying guest, and that they are receiving you into their home, in part, as a means of augmenting their income. Your host's apartment or house may be very different than what you are accustomed to. For instance, the home may have only one bathroom shared by all family members, rooms may be smaller and fewer in number or hot water may be carefully rationed. Try not to form preconceived notions about what to expect and be open to the situation in which you are placed. Remember, it is important to be respectful.

Students stay in homes in town or in a nearby suburb. Generally, the hosts have an income level that provides a relatively comfortable standard of living and modern home facilities. Housing arrangements vary, from boarder situations to being accepted as one of the family.

As a guest, you are the one who needs to adapt. You may not necessarily like how things are done in that country or in that household, but you must make adjustments, not the residents. You will also quite likely discover that the rules of the household make a great deal of sense once you understand the culture. Good communication with the host family is extremely important.

Some helpful hints when living with a host family:

  • Try to reach an early understanding with your hosts regarding rules and customs in the household, especially with regard to such things as the use of kitchen, hot water, helping with meals, and having guests.
  • Keep your room clean and neat and offer to help with some of the housework.
  • Call ahead of time if you will be late for meals or not there at all.
  • At night, call if you will home later than they expect you.
  • Prepare yourself for the possibility of fewer showers and during restricted times, as it is often quite expensive to heat water, and noise in apartment buildings may be a problem At any rate, learn to limit the length of your shower.
  • Learn to be sensitive to others' reactions to your words and actions. Be aware that what is par for the course at home might not be at all acceptable in other cultures.

It is important to be conscious of the culture gap. A gracious attitude toward your hosts will go a long way in overcoming the cultural misunderstandings that inevitably arise. Sensitivity, awareness and thoughtfulness are qualities that will help make your homestay a positive experience and will enhance your academic work and leisure time.

A small gift at the beginning of your stay, such as something specific to your hometown, is a thoughtful way to ease awkwardness. Pictures of your American family and school life are also good icebreakers and will help your hosts get to know you better.

Ways to avoid and/or deal with conflict in host family situation:

  • Be honest on housing questionnaire
  • Establish rules in the beginning
  • Be polite and reflect on your own behavior
  • Explain your situation/needs
  • Gauge the severity of the issue (i.e., can you live with it?)
  • Minimize conflict

Apartments and residence halls

The same basic standards of courtesy apply, since you are renting from a local landlord or university and sharing the facilities with other students. Loud music and noise may not be tolerated to the extent they are in the U.S. You are expected to abide by the housing rules and be a considerate neighbor.

Guests and Visitors

You are reminded that the university will not provide any administrative support (transportation, housing, childcare, etc.) or assume any responsibility for accompanying nonparticipants. Accompanying nonparticipants are limited to spouses or partners and children. It is common for family and friends to visit students on their break. However, accommodations for traveling, housing, food and activities all need to be made individually and aside from studies. Despite the temptation, school must remain your priority.