Last updated on November 3, 2019
Every year from September to November, we are joined by students from our partner schools in France, Spain, and Taiwan. Then during trimester three, Northwest selects their own students to send to these partner schools, where they not only improve their language skills but immerse themselves into the culture. Currently at Northwest, we have five students from Spain and three students from France.
Traveling to a new country can be quite the adjustment, whether it’s for two weeks or two months. The experience can vary among each student partaking in a study abroad program. Although there is no right way to go about the trip, many students return wishing they had approached it a little differently. “I wish I didn’t have expectations going into it. These weren’t high or low expectations, but I had a certain idea of what the trip was going to be like” says Emily M ‘21, who studied abroad in Seville, Spain last spring. “Try not even have them for the next day. Some days will be amazing, and some will be harder. You never know what the next day will hold, so it’s important to go into each day with no expectations and an open mind” Emily advises.
Avery P ‘21 who studied abroad in Angers, France last spring agrees with the idea that its best to “be open-minded and ready to adapt. It’s going to be different but it’s how you choose to embrace these difficult moments.” Iliana G ‘21 who studied abroad in Taipei, Taiwan, advises students to “really try to immerse yourself in the culture and make connections with the people there.”
Living with a host family is one of the many elements of the culture shock that study abroad students experience. “Every family has different rules, norms, and lifestyles. It’ll be weird at first, but just make sure to communicate with them so you can understand what’s going on.” says Emily M.
“Make sure to take time for yourself to relax and recharge,” says Avery “but also make sure you are putting in the effort to get to know all members of your host family.” Communicating in a different language can be challenging but it is proven to be one of the most effective ways to improve one’s language skills.
“Just talk to everyone,” says Ariadna O ‘22, an exchange student at Northwest from Seville, Spain, “It can be hard but it’s good for practice and helps you make good relationships.” “If you don’t feel super confident with the language, make sure to learn some basic phrases before going. That way you can communicate a bit more and make the bridge to learning and understanding more complicated phrases easier,” says Iliana G.
I myself studied abroad in Seville, Spain last spring and experienced my fair share of culture shock. The social environment differed greatly from the one I was used to in Seattle. I had to navigate this new environment while also having to communicate in a different language. I became frustrated at times because I couldn’t fully articulate and express myself because of the language barrier. This of course got better over time as my language skills improved.
I at first felt uncomfortable being different from everyone. This was difficult for me at first but in the end, it helped me gain a new sense of confidence and learn to not worry about others’ opinions of me. It can all seem quite overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that the students at the partner schools and members of your host family understand that you are still learning and adjusting to the culture. People aren’t judging you and are just interested in you and your life.
Although there is plenty of time to prepare for the study abroad experience, keeping in mind this advice from previous students is sure to help you if you choose to participate in a program. A high school study abroad program is a rare opportunity that Northwest offers and the students that are selected to attend will have a truly life changing experience. Good luck to all prospective study abroad students!