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Staying Connected

Consider how much you want to be connected with home while you are away. Factors to take into account might include:

  • Family and friends who will want to follow your experiences.
  • Banking and other legal issues you need to keep track of.
  • Course responsibilities at NIC.
  • How much you feel homesick or experiencing culture shock.

The trick is to find balance; enough connection to home and your life here to ensure those who care about you know you are safe and enough disconnect to allow you to stay in the moment.

Some connection issues to consider include:

  • Your snail mail – is someone picking it up and dealing with anything that is important?
  • Did you stop newspapers or magazines if you are going to be away for a longer period of time?
  • Do you have a viable travel email account? Is it web-based like Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail? Have you shared it with those you want to stay in touch with?
  • Did you tell your landlord and your bank and credit card company you will be away?
  • Are you considering a blog? Have you set it up?
  • Do you and your family/friends know the time difference from home to your destination?
  • If you are taking a laptop, do you have Skype installed?
  • If you taking a cell phone with you, did you set up with your local provider appropriate accounts to avoid astronomical roaming costs? Are you considering buying a phone when you arrive at your destination?

Group Travel

One of the great joys of travelling with a group is to have people to share experiences with, to debrief with each night and to talk to about your experiences when you get home. Often they are the ONLY ones who really get what the study abroad experience was really all about.

If you are going to be travelling with a group it’s useful to consider the realities of groups and to know that groups evolve using a specific pattern. Knowing how groups develop and what people who are in a group need during each stage will help you understand some of what is happening and perhaps allow you to contribute to a more successful group experience.

Standard group development modeling suggests that groups go through the following stages:

Forming – this is when the group is meeting each other. Usually people are a little reserved during this phase, holding back their normal behavior until they figure out who is who, what the “rules” are and how people are going to connect with each other. During this phase the group leaders will provide a fair amount of structure to help people connect with each other and develop a sense of what rules and values will guide the group.

Storming – this is when the whole group or some members of the group react negatively to the way the group is developing. Some people “storm” out loud letting everyone know what they don’t like. Others will “storm” quietly, talking to a few people they trust in order to make changes or figure out what is not working. Others will storm “silently”. They won’t say anything but check out or disconnect from what the group is doing either physically or emotionally. During this phase the group leaders will help members share their concerns, explore why members are not happy and work with the members to find solutions. Expect group meetings and find ways to share what you are experiencing. There are groups that don’t go through the storming phase and others who revisit it several times.

Norming – this is when you and other members of the group begin to feel it’s starting to come together. You’ll note the first day everyone makes it to the bus on time. Norming is the time when the “rules” or norms are beginning to be understood and people are following them. Anticipate your group leaders will be helping you understand the expectations about everything from getting your luggage to the bus to when to ask questions to what dress is appropriate for your visit to the temple or NGO office. The norming phase may mean you need to ask questions if you are not sure about something. And of course not everyone in the group moves from storming to norming at the same time.

Performing – this is when the group has got it together. The members of the group anticipate each other’s needs and help each other out; it all feels great. Your group leaders will be taking a less active role now because you and your fellow students know what to do and when to do it. Enjoy this time as it creates memories of a lifetime.

Adjourning – this is the time for the group to celebrate its accomplishments and to say goodbye. It is a time of great happiness and some sadness about moving on and leaving what you have helped create. Expect everyone to plan the celebration; the party, the “graduation”, the dinner out, and the appreciations for the special things group members did.

One last word. Groups develop this way in general and each group has a life of its own. One week you might feel awkward, the next week you might fit in well. Never sacrifice your own personal comfort, it is not worth it. Use this model to help you figure out what stage the group is in and what you can do to make the most of it.

Travelling Alone

One of the great opportunities in life is the chance to travel alone, allowing you to do what you want when you want. It has its challenges if you are someone who likes to have others to share with. Sharing your experience can be accomplished by being open to meeting other travelers and students on exchange, by journaling or blogging and by keeping in touch with loved ones at home.

When you are travelling on your own there are some guidelines to consider:

  • Ensure your family and OGE know where you are living and what your travel itinerary is.
  • Keep in touch with family and OGE routinely.
  • Make connections with the exchange office at the institution where you are studying, learning who your “go to” person is for questions and assistance.
  • Consider the kinds of connections you want to make and how you will make them. Are you looking for friends, others to study with, future business contacts, fellow weekend travelers, etc?
  • Use a balance of caution and exploration in making connections while you are on the road. Most people can be trusted. Learn to give your trust in stages as you see how others react.

Last pieces of advice

A couple of last pieces of advice for your consideration as you prepare for departure:

  • Keep your safety as a primary consideration. This means your health and your personal safety, as well as securing the key documents you need while you are way.
  • Know where your passport, your credit cards, your airline tickets, and other crucial documents are. Check on them regularly.
  • Ignorance is not an excuse. You are expected to know and follow the laws of the country you are visiting.
  • Know who can help you if needed – Embassy/consulate, fellow students, instructors, NIC, or family.
  • Be alert to safety hazards and avoid them or mitigate them.
  • If you are drinking alcohol, do it in moderation. Mistakes made when inebriated can change your life forever.
  • Avoid political demonstrations.
  • Expect difference and embrace it with curiosity.
  • Keep a journal or blog as a way to help you reflect on your experiences and how they are impacting you.
Need more information before you go? Check out our travel tips!