Do you remember your first year of college when you went through so many transitions? Do you remember being real excited the first few weeks, then missing home, then getting used to campus life and then having to get re-accustomed to living at home for the summer break? Studying abroad has these same transition stages which are referred to as the W-effect. I first heard of the W-effect from a Welcome to Study Abroad packet The University of Maryland sent me when I was registered with their program in Nice. This packet was designed to prepare students for the transition we were about to experience with studying abroad. It referred to the transitional phases as the “W-effect” to help explain the five major emotional changes you’ll go through during your time abroad. Let’s take a look at the different stages of the W-effect and how it impacts your study abroad experience with the help of e-book Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris.
1) The first stage of the W-effect is a peak stage. You have just landed in a new, exotic place and you are supposed to immediately fall in love. You think everything around you is fascinating and your camera never leaves your hand. This is the first elevated point of the letter W.
Everything is new and you want to capture it all. Many students spend this time sightseeing and trying out the local cuisine. Once classes start and the hustle and bustle of daily life kicks in, it is difficult to maintain this level of infatuation.
Andrea’s tip: Keep the tourist spirit alive by making a daily habit of finding and recording one new thing each day that you like about the study abroad experience, no matter how small.
2) The second stage is home sickness. The tourist high has worn off leaving you longing for home and familiarity. This stage is characterized by the first low point of the letter W.
The tourist high wears off quick when you’re trying to ask where the cold milk is in the market because all you’re seeing is unrefrigerated ones (weird, right?) and no one understands a word you’ve said. When everything around you is foreign, it’s natural to miss home and familiarity but don’t let it overwhelm you!
Andrea’s tip: Beat the study abroad blues by resuming hobbies. It will give you that sense of familiarity while helping you meet new people.
3) The third stage is that you become familiar with the environment around you. You begin to appreciate your situation for what it really is by finding a sense of belonging and comprehension of the culture in which you are immersed. This stage is characterized by the second elevated point in the letter W.
This is the study abroad sweet spot. It is at this 3rd stage that you understand and accept the culture and language around you; that you adapted to this new environment and have found a new you. This is the rewarding part of the study abroad experience that everyone talks about.
Andrea’s tip: Make the most of this stage by immersing yourself 100% in the host culture and language- learn every nuance.
4) The fourth stage is the returning back home stage. You are supposed to have become so accustomed to your host country that to return to your home country, whose culture you have been enmeshed in for the past twenty- some years, is supposed to feel foreign to you. This stage is the second low point of the letter W.
If you did a really great job at stage 3, coming back home can be a bit of a shock. Everything is different again and you have to relearn to be your old self. It can be especially tricky to move back home with parents after time abroad.
Andrea’s tip: A few weeks before coming home, talk to your parents about expectations to avoid “reverse transition shock”. It’s also a good idea to start following American news and catch up on what you’ve been missing to help you get back in the groove quicker.
5) The fifth and final stage is that you become reacquainted with your native culture and you once more have a sense of belonging with your friends and family. This stage is the final elevated point on the letter W.
This is it- mission accomplished! You went abroad, came back and conquered being at home again in your native culture. You have some great stories to share and lifelong memories.
Studying abroad is a rewarding, enriching experience but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come without a few bumps in the road. By knowing about the different transitions you’ll go through, you can better prepare to make the most of this once in a lifetime experience. Bonne chance!
Having studied abroad in Paris for a year, Andrea Bouchaud understands that living in the City of Light isn’t always easy. Her hands on experience with French culture and language immersion as an American student inspired her to write 2 books- Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris (2013) and The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored (2014) both on Amazon’s Kindle Store. Connect with Andrea at twentyinparis.net.
Read The Paris Diaries book review by The Study Abroad Guru here.
Post by: Andrea Bouchaud