In order to better ourselves and be successful we must gain a world-view. This is a belief that drives many students to study internationally. In the US, students are taught to understand The Hero’s Journey. The concept of the ‘hero’ is engraved in American culture through books, tv, film and media. The first step in the hero’s journey is a call to adventure, which when interpreted in modern society and applied to the journey of life this often requires leaving home.
I want to analyze studying abroad terms of a hero’s journey because international students are often seen as outsiders to the local society, but they are really strong individuals investing in themselves. Although the term ‘hero’ doesn’t necessarily apply, international students are “an agent piloting the course of his or her life,” by taking a journey to a new place and navigating the unknown (Marginson, 2012). International students are seeking self-formation in a new environment containing mentors, allies, dangers and challenges– ultimately leading to returning home a changed individual.
As I study abroad student myself, I can contest that navigating a new environment and calling it home can be equally challenging as it is rewarding. You have initial reservations about leaving home, but nonetheless you are ‘called to adventure.’ Although at first it is exciting to be a foreigner, you slowly become more aware of your differences and the stereotypes you carry. Once you ‘cross the threshold’ of feeling like an outsider it becomes evident that you must to accommodate in order to fit into a new society. Maybe it is the way you talk, the slang you use, the way you dress or how you interact with others– the ways in which you behaved at home are natural, but with new territory comes a new way of being. You begin trying new things. You meet people and make friends who help guide you along the way. Along the journey you succeed and sometimes you fail, but inevitably you grow and obtain new skills.
Hybridity takes its place in the ‘death and rebirth’ portion of the international student’s journey. You may now have to walk on a different side of the sidewalk, drive on the opposite side of the road, speak in a new language or participate in different activities. What you once knew as your way of being is now changed. As you adapt to this new place you balance your way of living with the learned customs of the new culture you are immersed. It is necessary though that the student is open to the new culture they are in and that they continue to immerse themselves. It is easy to be unwavering in your ways, but in order to reach the ‘atonement’ you must feel as though you have reinvented yourself or that you are enlightened in some way after adapting and hybridizing. It becomes a necessity if you want to fit in with the locals, but once you obtain a healthy balance it feels natural and your world is changed. Where is “home” once you have experienced this and changed in so many ways?
The local students and community who are exposed to the international students play a crucial role in this journey. Cultural plurality exists on international campuses like the University of Wollongong. Students from all over the world come to study and find their place on campus. They learn and adapt to the lifestyle of the new country, yet they maintain aspects of their cultural identity. Local students who are exposed to the wide-variety of cultures have the opportunity to learn and grow as well by being open to understanding the perspectives of the international students. Instead of seeing them as temporary visitors lacking the knowledge that locals have, they should respect them for their courage to invest in themselves and help them engage in self-cultivation by being friendly and open (Marginson, 2012).
Support of locals and other students is crucial to the international student who does not speak the native language. When you don’t speak English feeling connected to the local culture in Australia is even more difficult. Daily activities and interactions like understanding lectures, speaking in the classroom and making friends come with the additional language barrier. Peter Kell and Gillian Vogl describe the English language as being “a marketable product” as it provides access to a world of opportunities (Kell & Vogl, 2007). It is no wonder students come from all over the world to countries like Australia where they can invest in themselves by learning a new language. Education in itself is a means of self-formation.
Although I have not reached the end of my journey as an international student, I know that I will return home a changed person having navigated the unknown and transformed it into a home away from home. I can only hope that I can impact local students– whether it be to give them a new outlook on Americans or inspire them to study abroad as well– But I am thankful to know that I will return home with a fresh perspective of the world as I know it.
Kell, Peter, Vogl, Gillian 2006, ‘International students: negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes
Marginson, Simon 2012, ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, University of Wollongong