Many of your friends who have studied abroad went to the likes of Spain, England, or elsewhere in Europe, which is highly developed with strong economies, stable governments, and modern amenities. While studies there do provide new perspectives and fantastic experiences, there are some study abroad programs that send Americans to developing or underdeveloped nations for a semester to learn in their universities and understand how pupils are taught in subpar circumstances. If you’ve ever thought about studying abroad in a developing nation, here are some important aspects to keep in mind.
You will often be without light, water, and wifi. We expect that our tuition dollars in the United States as well as our taxes will ensure that we always have public goods like electricity, clean water from the sinks and showers, paved safe roads, and either wifi or 3G connectivity. However, the infrastructure of developing nations lags significantly behind much of the developed world, so the “luxuries” you expect having grown up in the US may not be available to you elsewhere in the world.
The curricula will feel very different. Especially in nations that were once colonized by a Western power, the teaching pattern and the information taught might feel peculiar, like a local interpretation and adaptation of a formal University experience. If you recall your history for a moment, Western powers used literature, education, and Christianity to “train” their colonies to act and think in a more Western fashion. Thus, to this day, the school system has a lot of remnants of colonial education with local infusions of history, folklore, information, and teaching style. Most of what you’ll learn won’t be what’s taught but how it’s taught and how to learn from a whole new teaching style you likely haven’t encountered before.
Organization isn’t top-shelf. Depending on where you went to college in the US, you may have used a university email address and three to five other channels of communication to remind you of upcoming events, schedule changes, and exam dates. Elsewhere, the communication is informal and unclear at best. With significantly less funding, universities rely on word-of-mouth and informal communication dissemination to get the word out about assignments and class times. You may feel out of the loop, but find someone in the class you trust and learn how to roll with the frequent changes.
You’ll stick out like a sore thumb. You’ve probably found a niche in your campus where you squarely fit, but in developing nations, you likely won’t be able to hide anywhere because you look, behave, and sound totally different from everyone else. No amount of accent practicing or tanning will make you “blend in” with the local culture’s norms and social contracts. It may be uncomfortable for a while, but the experiences of having to work to “fit in” and being okay with being drastically and obviously out-of-place will prepare you to show up anywhere with confidence.