Failures of Studying Abroad
Stages of Life
Alex had just graduated from school, being sure that the brightest future was waiting for him ahead. He was about to enter “the far and the beautiful Unknown” called international university.
In high school, the lad loved studying, sometimes to an extent of regretting that he skipped some lessons on purpose. I mean, who does not enjoy playing hooky from time to time? Even if school is great, being beyond its walls with some cheerful company is always better. Alex was not a know-it-all or a valedictorian, but when something sparked his interest, he could not help learning everything about the compelling subject. It happened once that he “bravely” agreed to ditch classes with his friends, but he was distressed to find out that he lost the chance to take part in a creative project that was related to art therapy (and various psychological experiments were his piece of cake). To cut a long story short, he really liked school life. (I may assume he would stay in his school forever if he could… but life goes on and, gradually, adulthood takes over.)
Goodbye, School Years, Goodbye!
Alex spent an amazing school farewell party. It even had a movie-like traditional graduation ball. He managed to sneak his girlfriend into the prom after midnight and they were dancing all night long. Everything seemed to be perfect. The only thrilling feeling was related to nostalgia – it is genuinely sad to realize that you will never be a high school senior again… well, actually, you will never be a part of school anymore, as college life is your new exciting stage of maturity! Supposedly…
We, humans, should have been already “immune” to the fact that everything passes by and there are different stages of “Goodbye”. We say goodbye to childhood, then we say goodbye to teenage years, and I’d rather not name all those goodbye stages for now. Yet, often, we are not ready to admit that one stage has ended, and the other one has already started. Something like that happened to Alex. He was unable to part from his school personality, habits, interests and, of course, friends. The stage of studying abroad, as exciting as it might be, was transformed from the image of the spirit-stirring and meaningful future into the embodiment of sheer academic pandemonium, which turned his perception of college life upside down.
Dream University Myth Buster. A dream for someone, a nightmare for the other...
I am going to tell this studying abroad story succinctly, but I do hope it will teach you to be much more far-sighted if you decide to choose your future Alma Mater overseas. What I mean is not choosing a temporary exchange program or academic cooperation through Erasmus Mundus or another integrated study program, but a full-fledged obtainment of higher education degree in a foreign country. What you should understand in the first place is that you will be far from home, your family and friends will be left behind. You will be able to get in touch with the nearest and dearest only by means of virtual communication. Sometimes, your nostalgia will feel unbeatable and unbearable. Sometimes, you will feel incredibly lonely, and no new “friends”, no new teachers will be able to help you out… Despite this sadness and frequent discomfort, you should always remember about your primary goal of going to a foreign land – to study hard, obtain precious knowledge, and pave the way towards professional future you actually can imagine yourself in.
So, Alex was there… standing in the halls of a distinguished college; scared but thrilled, and ready to make new friends to laugh with them until Dawn. He felt sad because his girlfriend was in the other part of the world, the boy realized that long distance relationship would unlikely work out. Whatever nostalgia was left back home, he was genuinely excited. This college was deemed a dream of so many striving students, and the only awareness that his enrollment application was accepted among thousands of others totally boosted his self-esteem. Was he ready to rock this new stirring stage of life? The answer to this question will come a bit later.
The next morning after Move-In Day… No One Likes a "Talker-Stalker".
Alex woke up at 8 am and noticed that all his roommates were gone. His first thought was “Have I slept through the alarm? Has the lecture started? Where is everyone?”
Then he heard a peal of distant laughter behind the door. He opened the door and saw his roommates and other fellow students having breakfast in the kitchen. It turned out that they decided to organize an “ice-breaking” breakfast before the classes to get acquainted with each other. Everyone was there, except Alex. No one invited him. Some students thought that others invited him, while his roommates knew perfectly well that no one did… What was the problem? Is something wrong with him? The bitter truth is the majority of students simply did not like Alex right from the start. Some peers considered him excessively cheerful, while others could not stand his constant questions about practically everything, and his roommates did not like that he did not take the shower before going to bed… (was he exhausted, which made him fall asleep immediately?... even if he was… the exhaustion came mostly due to his never-ending idle talk with almost everyone he met on his way…) The fact of that awkward moment when he appeared in the kitchen and drew the attention to himself was quite obvious – the majority considered him an annoying chatterbox and a slightly strange kid… Probably, for the first time in his life, Alex was out of his element. What is worse, his groupmate Ustas stirred the pot by saying, “Sorry, dude. I thought you do not need any ice breaker, as you already cracked the ice by leeching onto the half of your class yesterday. What other irksome topics have you prepared for today?”
It seems there were plenty of reasons not to like Alex. Although, in reality, he was truly sincere, nice, and enticingly erudite.
What he heard from Ustas was unpleasant but quite eye-opening. He was taken aback by the fact that the majority of fellow students find him bothersome. He just looked around, a bit startled, but then came to his senses, murmuring “Okay…” No other word was spilled from his mouth. Alex simply went away to get ready for his first lecture at the “college of his doubtful dreams”.
First Lecture in the Foreign Setting. The Pandemonium of Silence.
So the first lecture started. The discipline was Psychology, and the topic was “Mindfulness”. Alex revived a bit after the controversial morning situation with peers and tried to be in his usual joyous mood. The more his lecturer talked, the more questions popped into the freshman’s mind. He instantly raised his hand when the professor mentioned the name of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, as the student recently read the scientist’s book “Full Catastrophe Living”. Alex wanted to share his viewpoints on the therapeutic oeuvre along with the ensuing questions.
Professor Kowalski looked at the student with surprise, “Would you like to go out? “No…” Alex faltered. “I would like to comment on the MBSR program drawbacks.” The professor’s astonishment seemed to be growing. “MBSR drawbacks? Hmm… let me see. What is your scientific degree, boy?” “I beg your pardon, Mr. Kowalski…” “Right. You are a freshman, and you are here to listen carefully and to study in order to obtain a degree in Psychology in 4-5 years… After your graduation, you will immerse in practicing the skill set you gained at university. Only time-consuming, tiresome, and scrupulous practice will turn you into a professional. Can a newborn bird fly? No. And you are even not a new-born scientist to see drawbacks in the works of reputable scholars. Yet, you will have a chance to express your opinion – in writing. I am responsible for making up inquiries here, and you and your fellow students will be responsible for responding to my questions in the written form. Is everything clear?”
The whole class burst into laughter… and Alex did not have any more questions.
Ironically, mindfulness reflects the state of being fully present, analyzing what is happening around us, focusing on the one subject. It implies Alex was rejected despite being fully involved, fully present, being “all ears” when listening to the professor…
Every subsequent lecture, despite thought-provoking and boring subjects, had the same rules, which could be generalized into one: “Listen and write down.”
Academic Writing. Worst Subject Ever.
The poor student did not suspect that the worst was waiting for him round the corner.
The conclusive part after several lectures was embodied by written assignments. Now Alex received the chance to express his thoughts. Yet, he felt much more confident when speaking rather than writing. Of course, he wrote essays at high school, but the majority of the projects were collaborative, and he was rewarded for his active participation. There was one thing he did not realize prior to the first research paper at college – his level of writing was quite low, especially when the task had to be accomplished in a foreign language. The nightmare was brought to life when he read through his syllabus and understood that written assignments comprised 70% of student work. He plucked up his courage and asked his roommates for help. He was rejected again. The ensuing comments of his peers were torturing him: “It seemed you are know-it-all, what happened to your agile brain?”, “Okay, I’ll do your homework, but you should pay for this help”, “Oh wow, now you need help, but no one asked you to be helpful when you stuck your nose into the private space of others”, and so on…
Although it was a real challenge for him, the freshman tried to complete his written projects, but continued getting poor marks. Gradually, he lost interest in studying, and started failing to meet the deadlines.
Disengaged Probation and Agreed Expulsion.
Alex imagined his experience at the international college differently. He was interested in gaining new knowledge and craved interaction. The approach of “silent listening” felt wrong. Constant written assignments also felt wrong. He could show his worth in some alternative way, but he only felt that he needed to keep his mouth shut. Gradually, it made him feel out of place. Instead of staying attentive, the student became emotionally detached. He spent more time on social media, searching for new knowledge unrelated to his studies, and delved into virtual entertainment, as he felt “out of place” among his peers. The youngster turned into a black sheep, not fully comprehending how and why. Although loneliness fully absorbed him, the lad was even reluctant to ask for assistance from the student’s councilor.
One more cloudy day started. Alex reluctantly checked his email. One attracted his attention among the others. Its title said: Alex Green. Probation Request. The boy did not even have to read this letter to understand what it was all about. He was given the last chance to improve his academic rating. An adult advisor was assigned to help him pass all the disciplines anew.
Alex visited the advisor for the first time, and the mentor was not available. He visited the advisor for the second time, and despite the counsellor’s availability, he did not like any of the tasks given to him. All the explanations seemed to be trivial, all the topics were comprehensible… yet, the student could not motivate himself even to express his opinion freely as he could before he started feeling like a stranger in a foreign land full of frenemies.
He knew pretty well that such an attitude will imminently lead to expulsion. At the same time, the exclusion from the college where everything felt wrong was his salvation.
The other day, Alex came to the dean’s office, asking to fill in an application for a student-initiated expulsion.
Home Sweet Home
It was a beautiful August day, and the sea breeze filled the air. Alex came back home.
His parents already knew what happened. Despite the initial misunderstandings and even a typical parents-and-child scandal, both his mother and father did their best to imagine themselves in Alex’s shoes. All in all, the expulsion was not the worst thing that could happen to their son. He did not take drugs, he did not go to night parties, he did not offend his professors or peers… he just did not fit in.
When he rang the doorbell, the parents greeted him with a hug. “You will find your place in the sun”, his father said, patting the son on the shoulder. “We love you, Alex”, his mother said with the smile.
In several months, Alex was enrolled in a wonderful university in the most creative city of his homeland. He gets in touch with his old friends, and he found new ones, who share his thirst for knowledge. Now his dorm room is full of nice music and sincere laughter.
Sometimes, everything we need is a good word to encourage others to continue fighting for their aims.
P.S. This is a true story. I only changed the name of the person who shared his distressing study abroad experience with me.