Studying abroad is an amazing yet challenging opportunity. It is easier to prepare for the fun and adventure than the obstacles. In an attempt to better prepare students for the trials that come with studying abroad, my program provided an introduction packet. It gave general facts and information on the specific country as well as what to expect when transitioning to life abroad. This transition section was called the “W-effect”. The W-effect is the description of five predicted stages of transition. Let’s look at the five stages below:
The first stage 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
It is important to understand there is no time frame for any of the stages. I did not know how long one stage would last or if I could experience multiple stages at once. In my own personal experience with studying abroad, I only experienced stages two, three and five.
After a very long second stage the first semester, I learned that the W-effect should only be used as a mere guide and not an actual outline of the transitional process to life abroad and the return home. The transition into a foreign country with a new culture, language and collegiate system is incredibly difficult. It can take anywhere from weeks to months to become fully adapted depending upon how accepting and open you are to change.