III. Post-Return

The study abroad or exchange experience does not truly end when a student returns to their home country.  There is important work yet to be done at home.  New experiences and new sensations happen so fast and so frequently while abroad that it is difficult to process and understand these experiences all at once.  Only once a student has returned home, and has begun sharing their experience can they really start to make meaning of the knowledge gained during the trip.  Modern technology can aid in this development though the use of interactive social media to help share their study abroad experience, while also spreading some core concepts of global citizenship.  The Internet also serves as a source of information to help students contextualize study abroad for their future lives, or in other words, helping them fully realize global citizenship.

Sharing the Experience

Online and social media are important tools for helping study abroad students share their experience and knowledge gained overseas.  One way to share these experiences is through blogs, a sort of online journal that is available for public consumption.  There are several free blogging websites, such as Word Press, that allow users to create blogs, but also interact with other users by leaving feedback or asking questions.  Blogging serves two important points.  Through blogging and answering questions posted to their blog, students are forced to critically consider their study abroad experience, which helps give meaning not only to the reader, but also the author themselves  (Kowarski, 2010).  Secondly, by making this information available for friends and family, students who have studied abroad can help “globalize their locality” (Cossolotto, 2009).  While most people are unable to travel and study abroad, being able to experience life abroad through a blog, can provide access to insight, new ways of thinking, and knowledge that would have previously been available only to a select few.  Globalizing the locality is a grassroots effort to spread global citizenship through shared experiences.  The use of websites such as Flickr to share photos and YouTube to share videos helps enrich the information available, giving visuals to go with the written word of blogs, and helping to create deeper connections.  Because not everyone will be fortunate enough to travel or live abroad, those that do study abroad play an important role in the spread of global citizenship.

Comprehending the Meaning

Studying abroad can be an intense experience. Learning to navigate foreign cultures and potentially foreign languages can be daunting even under the best of circumstances. However, it is exactly these sorts of experiences that make study abroad and exchange programs unique in irreplaceable learning opportunities. Yet making sense of experiences and actually comprehending the lessons learned abroad can prove to be a difficult task. In fact, many students come return to find that their home universities have little coursework to offer to help enrich the learning process, and have few opportunities to develop recently acquired civic sensibilities (Lewin, 2009). Fortunately, more and more resources are becoming available on the Internet to help students internalize what exactly their study abroad experience meant. One such resource is online seminars, or webinars, designed to help students “unpack,” or more deeply understand their study abroad experience. Michigan State University and the University of Texas have teamed up to create an in-depth website that includes webinars to help students gain a better understanding of their experience abroad. Through “unpacking” students’ exposure to foreign cultures helps provide insight into alternative perspectives, as well as their own identities (Kowarski, 2010). These realizations and play a further role in the creation of a global citizen. At this point students can use their knowledge and experience to help further their studies, their careers, and their lives. Study abroad and academic exchange does not necessarily result in the creation of a global citizen, but it does offer the tools and opportunity for those willing to do the work.