Research Network: Global, Transnational and Cosmopolitan Sociology
Studying abroad is a growing and institutionalized practice. To find out what young people are really getting out of it we need to hear their stories and explore the implications of the educational travel within the broader context of their lives.
This paper presents preliminary findings about the significance attributed by international master students in Helsinki and in Florence to their educational, cultural and overall life experience abroad. Analysis of 50 autoethnographical essays reveals that most of the subjects had no previous familiarisation with or exposure to clear-cut narratives about the destination country and city.
We can indeed find a series of related images, but not sufficient to constitute a leading narrative for their life experiences in North or South Europe. The trace of a well-defined script derived from a structured story, such as a book or a movie, is absent. It is instead possible to catch a glimpse of a vague cosmopolitan narrative. This story, constructed on a global scale by different actors and institutions, is partially disconnected from the society and culture of the countries of destination or provenance.
The story upholds the validity of studying abroad for both instrumental and expressive reasons. And the practice seems to constitute a liminal and transitional space-time: an institutionalized rite of passage towards adulthood and global citizenship. It’s an undefined story without exemplary characters, so it’s up to the individual student to find heroes and villains along the way to construct his or her idea of who is a good citizen of the world.
Key words: international students, cultural experience, narratives, cosmopolitan, north Europe, south Europe