Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some Sturdy Students' Semester Studies Overseas Sans Homesickness

Budapest, Hungary

A couple of days ago, I blogged on homesickness, which I've never suffered abroad, but there may be ever more cases of this 'illness' as unprecedented numbers of students spend a semester or more abroad . . . or maybe there won't be an epidemic, given contemporary youths' apparent flexibility, which reminds me of my own experience in other lands:
When Sid Mathur first arrived in Budapest for a study abroad program in 2009, he was shocked by the empty streets, which called to mind old stereotypes he had of Eastern and Central Europe.

"It was crazy, because we were walking and it was empty, like dead," he said, remembering his first Sunday afternoon wandering the Hungarian capital. "I was like, 'Where am I, what did I do?'"

Within a few days, however, Mr. Mathur and his newfound friends discovered a "thrilling nightlife" and the perks of living in the spacious apartments offered to students enrolled in his course, a Budapest Semester in Mathematics.

"What I loved about Budapest at first was the art and bar scene, but of course also academics," he said, over a local beer at a new bar. "The math grabbed me. It was great, it really was."

Mr. Mathur, 25, is no stranger to travel. A native of India, he grew up in the Philippines and spent three years at college in Ohio before arriving in the European city.

While in Budapest, he enjoyed meeting people from all over Europe. "I made friends with a lot of Germans who are very out of their element here -- maybe not as much as I am, but almost."

Mr. Mathur's experience reminds me of my own in Germany. I never got as far east as Hungary, but German cities were also rather dead on Sunday afternoons. That lack of activity, however, made Sundays a good time for biking through nature on the wonderfully well-maintained German bike paths, so I never felt homesick. My life was lived at a higher standard than at home -- why feel homesick? There was even art and alcohol as well, as in Mr. Mathur's account. One merely needed to seek life out, which is not always lived in the street. Homesickness doesn't seem to afflict the adventuresome types such as myself, Mr. Mathur, and others described by Palko Karasz in the article "New cultures and languages challenge beyond the classroom" (International Herald Tribune, March 28, 2012, page 10; update: also now in NYT), as long as one keeps busy with interesting new experiences in the new culture:
"If you want to interact with locals in a foreign environment, you need to be very open to cultural differences," said Mr. [David] Ottlik[, a Hungarian native]. "With all the new things to discover [in Paris], I didn't have time for homesickness."

And with all the foreign students flocking to Korean universities these days, this city that I've made my home, Seoul, is destined to grow ever more cosmopolitan, for "South Korea [is one of the] . . . 'emerging market' destinations according to Chiao-Ling Chien of Unesco's Institutes of Statistics, which carries out studies on foreign students," or so reports Christopher F. Schuetze in "Smart Shoppers in Global Market" (NYT, March 27, 2012). This transformation, which seems to be occurring in cities across the world, promises to make living abroad both more complex and more familiar, thereby occasioning fewer instances of homesickness in expats.

But there might arise cases of native-born homesicknesses for a less complicated, more isolated past, future shock as nostomania . . .

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