Study Abroad Preparation

Group Activity: Diary extracts

In this section we provide some words of encouragement in the form of student diary extracts, along with some questions for you to consider pre-departure. These are the sort of thoughts, reflections, concerns and triumphs that students have expressed while studying abroad. In groups, read each diary extract and discuss the questions which follow.

REMEMBER: there may well be an expectation amongst the many individuals involved in your stay abroad (known collectively as ‘study abroad stakeholders’) that you will return somehow better – that your language and cultural competences will be improved. There might also be an assumption that you will develop autonomous learning strategies / independent study skills whilst away from your home university. And even that there will be a challenge to your identity (or multiple identities) – that you will return somehow different, better.

How does this sound so far? Scary..?

  • Not really what I had in mind? I am not really that curious – I see the whole thing as a bit of a holiday…
  • – Whilst it is safe to say that the objectives of some study abroad students are not always primarily academic, the good sign is that you are here on this website, interested in finding out more!
  • I am not sure I like the sound of ‘autonomous’!! If this is what I am supposed to achieve, who is going to help? Or is this saying there is no help?!
  • I am only going for 3 months anyway… I can’t really imagine that I will return that different.
  • And what does cultural competence mean anyway!?


Part 1: Student A: U-CURVE

An extract from Student A’s diary

I am writing this diary to prove to myself that these three months abroad have been successful. My Mum is English and so I thought there wouldn’t be much for me to improve. I was so wrong! For me it wasn’t too hard to adapt, but I have seen my fellow students struggle with culture shock at times. Sometimes it was quite funny, but explaining the reasons to them was complicated.

But I did some reading and that helped us. The process that somebody undergoes in a different culture from his/her own is the so-called U curve of adjustment. It describes the adaptation course as a curve that has its highlight moment on arrival. This phase is called the honeymoon phase. It takes place when all the new things we find in the new culture are amazing and exciting: such as food, people’s habits, architecture, lifestyle etc.

The curve’s decline appears when the excitement of the arrival has worn off and people experience feelings of depression and anxiety. This feeling grows when there are difficulties getting used to and understanding things. For example, a different food timetable, different food, different ways of doing things, or a pace of life that can be too fast or too slow…

The last phase takes place when one gets used to the new culture’s differences and develops routines. At this point, we do not see the new culture as new. The person then considers what was once the new culture as a “second own culture” and he/she becomes comfortable with it, as if they were in their original culture.

My own conclusion is that all of us have gone through these stages to some extent. We are no longer the same people who arrived here in September. I know I have changed, I am someone different. To be honest I have found out that I have a mix of cultures, now I have lived among the societies of both my Mum and Dad’s backgrounds.


Research the U curve of adjustment. Do you think Student A explains this well? What would you change / add? Did this happen to you during your first year at university? Write a paragraph about this.

1 – What do you think that you should do if you feel down or anxious? What do you think might trigger these feelings for you?

2 – This student makes a strong point about study abroad leading to a change in identity: “We are no longer the same people who arrived here…”. What do you think this means?

3 – Can you imagine your destination culture becoming your “second own culture”? Is this exciting to you? Why / why not?

4 – Do you think that citizens of a country have one identity or multiple identities? What is this diary saying about ‘identities’? To help you consider this, have a think about the different communities you belong to and also broad dividing lines, such as region, nation, profession, religion, ethnic origin, political affiliation, and social economic status.

5 – How have friends who have already experienced study abroad found their time away: easy – challenging – overwhelming? Give some examples of why, and what they have said they have learnt from these experiences. If you do not have any information on this, find a student who has returned from study abroad to have a chat with.



An extract from Student B’s diary

I want to improve my fluency and to understand native people when talking and on television. So I watch TV every time that I go to the kitchen. I try to make an effort when listening and talking to people. I think I have mastered some of the typical British words now (‘mate’, ‘cheeky’ and ‘fancy’ are part of my speech now!). I note down the new words I come across and have also learnt certain structures that I can use for my essays. But I have learned most words from the people I have met rather than from books, TV shows or magazines. Chatting to people makes you enrich your vocabulary. The so-called Language Tandems are an ingenious way to improve each student’s second or even third language, and exchange cultures.

My diary may get more emotional towards the end though, but that’s only because I reflect on what I have lived during these three intense months. I have been travelling, studying, truly learning and above all, having fun! Not just in the classroom, but in all the surroundings offered by a new city and country. Coming to the English capital is all about cultural immersion, and although it isn’t always easy or comfortable, it is brilliant! The most valuable things I will take back with me are the memories of all the amazing people and places. I have explored London, conquered public transport, travelled around some cities (Newcastle and Birmingham), and even learned a few things along the way! My advice: “Try everything at least once!”

I have learned about myself too. My diary uses humour at times, and can be a bit too sarcastic or ‘cheeky’, but that’s the way I coped with what I saw happening around me, because most times there was no rational explanation! I attach importance to the smaller incidents that were nevertheless those with monumental effects, which helped me grow as a person. I think that I have changed in a good way. I am more confident, happier even.

That’s why I think that this Estada a L’Estranger is so useful, although a mere ninety days feels such a short time to stay there: it takes a month and a half to get used to everything that surrounds us, and by the time we have made ourselves at home, it’s almost time to leave!


1 – Make a list of your language learning objectives and how you plan to achieve these. What ‘typical’ English words do you know? What slang have you come across?

2 – Think about something you have found out about what happens in another culture that seems to you to have no ‘rational explanation’. Do you think that you would think the same if you lived in that culture for a few months?

3 – Estada a L’Estranger is Catalan for stay abroad. What do you think about the author’s comments on the duration of his / her stay? Does this motivate you to get organized now and set your objectives?

4 – Find out about ‘language tandems’. What are they? What is involved? Does your host university organize them for you or do you need to find your own? If the latter, how are you going to go about doing this?

5 – Why do you think this student described the study abroad experience as “immersion”?

6 – Some researchers describe the benefits of study abroad in terms of learning about ‘little- c’ culture. This student observes: “I attach importance to the smaller incidents that were nevertheless those with monumental effects, which helped me grow as a person.” What do you think they mean by this? What do you think that this student meant by ‘truly learning’?


Part 3: Student C: ACCENTS

An extract from Student C’s diary

During one lesson we were asked to do an essay about accents and dialects. This was interesting for me because I can’t identify an accent when I hear it. There are people I understand better than others and people that seem to speak a totally different language from English – when they are speaking English!! For example, one of my flat mates is from somewhere outside New York, and I cannot understand anything when she speaks. We say sorry after every sentence. She apologies because she can’t keep speaking slowly all the time and I say sorry because I feel bad when I make her repeat a sentence a million times. And it is so frustrating because Annie is the person I spend most time with.

Anyway, for our essay we had to include some interviews with Northern citizens, asking them to explain their thoughts. That is what I did and the result was surprising for me. The people in my city are known as Mancunians. I find it really difficult to understand some of them. But everyone I asked was absolutely proud of their dialect. Although, I confess that I had to ask some of them to repeat their answers a few times! Young interviewees didn’t notice any discrimination because of their accents but old people told me there had been problems with their language when they were young and sometimes they lost a job because of it. This is progress! As time has gone by and people have become more open-minded, accents have become more acceptable. I can say that nowadays, accents and dialects are not related with social class. But I need to do some more work on my listening skills with different accents!


1 – Do you have a dialect in your native language? Are you proud of this?

2 – Check that you are clear of what is meant by the north of England.

3 – Carry out a similar study to the one described above. Interview two people from your
region (and if you are away from home, consider using Skype). Do they feel that they speak with an accent? Do they think that there is a local dialect? What examples can they give of ‘non-standard’ vocabulary or phrases? Do they think that people with local accents / dialects are discriminated against? If so, in what way?

4 – Do you agree with this student’s statement: “accents and dialects are not related with social class”? Why / why not?

5 – What do you think about any experiences you have had in an IntClass? In your experience, do local students ‘cluster’ together? Do international students do the same? Or is everyone mixing? If not, what do you think is causing the class to divide in certain ways? What do you think might change this?

6 – Who do you plan to spend most of your time with, and to explore your host university town and region?