"If you need to make up your own study abroad experience, they all pretty much work the same way. You arrived in Australia not knowing anybody, you went out to the bar the first night and made a lot of friends, you had a short relationship with someone from a foreign country, you didn’t learn anything, and you acquired a taste for something (local food, beer, fruit). This latter point is important because you will need to be able to tell everyone how it is unavailable in your current country."--Christian Lander, Stuff White People Like (22 Feb 2008)
I absolutely love this post, because it is so true for me and most of my friends. That study abroad story really does sum up the experience, for the most part.
I went to England not knowing anybody, went out to pubs with my new coursemate friends, had my foreign guy flings, (actually did learn a lot in school, though), and acquired a taste for Weston's Organic cider, which is not available in the U.S.
My friend went to France not knowing anybody, went out drinking with new friends from school, had a brief relationship with a French girl, (did learn something, as he became fluent in French) and acquired a taste for a variety of cheeses that are presumably hard to find in the U.S.
Another friend went to teach in small-town Austria (she only knew some people in Vienna and Germany), went out for bier und schnitzel with her new coursemate friends, had a (serious, as they're now engaged) relationship with an Austrian, (did learn something, as she decided she didn't want to become a teacher), and acquired a taste for schnitzel, which just isn't the same in the U.S.
The only thing Lander appears to have wrong is the learning bit. I think students actually do learn something during an academic sojourn, despite the increased partying potential. If anything, it might be fair to say that partying is part of the learning process...We learn about local culture from our host country peers, and if local student culture involves partying, then isn't a good night out just part of the culture-contact experience?