While many students are excited about returning to campus in the fall, a large percentage will be starting a new chapter of their Boston College adventure, only not at BC. The Eagles in mind are those studying abroad.
The prospects of studying abroad are exciting, opening up opportunities for new experiences beyond the "BC bubble." The process—while exciting—can also be daunting. Implicit in the buildup to studying abroad are budding questions and anticipated expectations. How do I figure out where I want to go? Will my perspective of BC and the world at large change? When is the best time to leave—fall or spring?
These questions may seem intimidating and cannot always be answered easily. Fortunately, there are certain things that can be thought about in advance to help answer these questions to make students more informed individuals when considering studying abroad (or not).
Two perspectives on studying abroad—one student who recently returned and another who is about to embark—shed light on choosing the perfect destination and making the most of your study abroad experience and its impact on shaping your values and beliefs.
Ellen Hill, MCAS ‘17, describes the initial (and often most difficult) decision to make in the entire process—choosing your destination.
“I knew that I wanted to study abroad in a place where I could work on my language skills,” she says. “Speaking a second language with proficiency has always been a personal goal of mine.” Having studied French, studying abroad in France was a "no brainer” for Hill.
Similarly, Kristen Wnuck, MCAS ’18, pursuing a Hispanic Studies minor, will be studying in Ecuador next semester. She explains, “I wanted to study in a Spanish-speaking country and I had already experienced Spain.”
While various destinations have different appealing qualities, language is a seemingly prevalent factor that many students take into consideration before deciding where they want to go.
In addition to language, the sheer excitement of exploring a new culture and experiencing diversity helps narrow down choices.
“South American countries are so different than any other country I've experienced,” admitted Wnuck. “I figured study abroad is the perfect time for an adventure.”
The next task is choosing between the fall or spring semester. The feeling of not wanting to miss out is often the hardest to reconcile with studying abroad. There are special memories on campus that happen both semesters, often making it difficult to choose the one that you will miss. Consequently, this creates a hesitancy that often holds people back from having a new experience. Ultimately, those who have chosen will have done so based on their own interests and preferences.
“I personally chose to go abroad in the spring,” says Wnuck, “because a lot of my favorite parts of BC happen during the fall semester: club field hockey, football, and a few hockey games.”
On the other hand, while studying in the spring, Hill admits she had “serious homesickness on Marathon Monday.” She further describes an additional obstacle to studying during spring semester.
“You have to work harder to prepare your summer internship plans. The Career Center is super helpful though, and they know how to help juniors who are abroad in the spring find summer plans.”
Whichever semester one chooses, there are both things that will be appreciated and enjoyed as well as things that will be disliked. That is an inevitable reality.
While studying abroad is a great experience, it is not necessarily for everyone.
“The best advice I can give people is to really listen to themselves when making the decision,” advises Wnuck. “It's great to push yourself and experience something new, but also don't study abroad just because everyone does it. When choosing a place, think about what you hope to experience, not just where all your friends are going.”
Upon reflecting on her experience, Hill describes how her semester abroad greatly impacted her perspective and shaped who she is. “I think that being abroad allowed me to focus on and really explore who I want to be, rather than who I’m expected to be,” she says.
This exploration, however, is not a convenient, opportunistic pretext to escape or avoid conflict, both internal and external.
“You take all your baggage with you: physical and emotional,” Hill points out. “You’ll still struggle with the same things you struggle with normally, but being abroad can force you to figure out how to deal with that effectively.”
There is no over-arching, golden rule that applies to everyone when it comes down to studying abroad. The choice of destination—and thereby the justification for the decision—will be catered to each individuals' values and interests.
At the end of the day, students can be reassured that they are increasingly well-informed and confident that they can effectively pursue their study abroad experience in a meaningful way.