Review

Study Abroad 101
by Wendy Williamson (Cameroon 1994–96; Ecuador 1996–98)
Agapy Publishing
June 2004
158 pages
$12.95

    Reviewed by Alan Boyd (Ethiopia 1964–66)

    AS THE AUTHOR SAYS, “the stated purpose of this book [is] to point you to various external resources that may be helpful to you . . ..” That is what this book does. If the reader is looking for a quick introduction to the issues that should be considered when planning to study abroad, then Study Abroad 101 is the right book for a quick read.
         A glance at the Table of Contents tells the reader that nothing is going to be handled in any detail; however, the book does supply a mind-boggling number of references to websites to which a reader can refer for more information. It also provides the author’s slant on many of the questions a person traveling to another country might ask, and then refers the reader to a website for more information. The reader is left to him or herself to judge whether the website is useful or accurate. All the author does is give the reference.
         For more in-depth treatment of many of the subjects mentioned in this book, I’d suggest that readers go to the publication list of Intercultural Press. The Intercultural Press has a list of books that give serious discussions about the dynamics of traveling and living in another culture, as well as careful discussions of many other cultures besides those of the U.S.
         Study Abroad 101 is apparently a book that is based upon the personal experience of the author. The book demonstrates the author’s pet peeves and reflects upon her own personal experience, most of which must have been positive. There are no references to other writers, except in passing, and no bibliography. The author also uses the term “culture” loosely, applying it to subgroups in society and equating it with shared experiences. Culture has been defined much more precisely by anthropologists as the set of learned symbols, which people in a particular society share and which they use to define their environment and on which their system of values is based. Culture is fundamentally unconscious for most people and is instilled in childhood. It is not something which can be learned as an adult. It can only be modified.
          This reviewer also had trouble with the author’s use of stereotypes as a positive source of understanding. She thinks they should be avoided only when it is based upon misinformation. But how is someone supposed to know when the stereotype they are reacting to is positive or negative? Making cultural assumptions about anyone is always negative.
          The author states that she thinks studying abroad is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” However, the hope is that studying abroad for anyone will be “a door-opening experience” resulting in “many-times-in-a-lifetime” sets of experiences.
          For many RPCVs the first overseas experience was with the Peace Corps. It was truly an eye-opening and self-realizing experience, and for many it was not a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
          The first experience abroad should result in someone becoming sensitized to his or her own cultural system and appreciative of the system of others. It should not be so short-term or Westernized, that the student is kept from experiencing another culture.
         If a student is about to study abroad, or an instructor is trying to prepare students for that experience, Study Abroad 101 is a good beginning, but it is not enough. It does give the impression that the author thinks study abroad and the intercultural experience is worthwhile. It is not something that should be taken lightly, applying quick fixes, as the author tries to do. Much more studying and reading is needed. Students and instructors who are preparing to go abroad should go beyond this one book and consult the wide literature on the cross-cultural experience that is available.

    Alan W. Boyd is the Director of International Student and Faculty Services at Ohio Univesity, Athens, Ohio. Since the Peace Corps he has finished various degrees, the most significant of which was his Ph.D. in Anthropology, with a special emphasis in African music. Married to Sue Nighswander Boyd, who was also a PCV in Ethiopia, they are the parents of two children, Justin and Christina. Christina was a PCV in Nepal from 1991 to 1993. A total of eight members of their extended family have served in the Peace Corps.