Some of us like to study in Bapst, some in O’Neill, and some in our rooms. There is no "best" study spot on campus, because everyone is different and prefers a different environment.
The same goes for study abroad programs. It’s easy to feel inundated with all the choices, but the reality is that because all of the programs are so different, it is really important to know what kind of environment is the best for your personalis.
Let’s get this out of the way: There are few reasons someone may choose not to go abroad. Some tracks at BC make it very difficult to take a semester abroad, but more often than not, there is a way to go abroad and still graduate on time. Faculty and advisors are more than happy to help, as going abroad is not only a unique experience, but a vitally eye-opening one.
A study conducted by the BC Academic Advising Center on the Class of 2016 showed that students learned how to relate to people of different races, nationalities, religions, and backgrounds during their time abroad as much as they did through internships, employment, and service work.
"The biggest non-academic takeaway was just an increased independence and self-confidence. I gained a lot more confidence in my ability to handle situations on my own (especially while traveling) and orient myself in a foreign space,” shared Marta Seitz, MCAS ‘18. “I also challenged myself to step outside of my comfort zone and interact with locals to ask for help, learn about their culture and perspective, and initiate conversations and relationships."
Going abroad can boost self-esteem and confidence, but above all else, it’s meant to allow students to escape the "BC bubble" and immerse themselves in another culture.
But what if they take the BC bubble with them?
According to Ashley Douglas, LSOE ’18, who attended the BC in Galway program, "We branched out very little in terms of trying to make friends with any of the local students during our stay... I would definitely say we really mostly only hung out with each other.”
She added, “Most of us lived in different groups solely made up of the 12 of us BC students too. And we really for the most part just went out with each other."
Though this may paint study abroad programs as ethnocentric on BC’s part, there are undeniable advantages to spending time with a community from home while abroad.
"Getting the opportunity to get so close with such a unique group of people from BC—who I probably would have never otherwise met—was also, in my opinion, an incredible opportunity in itself," said Douglas.
Christopher Keegan, CSOM ’18, who attended the BC in Paris program at L’Institut Catholique de Paris, had a different experience.
"I was lucky to have the opportunity to throw myself into the culture, even though I was sort of drop-kicked into it, but some programs merely transplant Chestnut Hill to [Insert European City Here]," he explained.
Though a different culture and environment may at first be disorienting and distressing, it won’t take long to get used to a new setting.
"Once I got used to speaking French in my daily life it was nearly the same routine that I was used to at home," said Keegan.
BC’s Office of International Programs (OIP) highlights the importance of going abroad for the sake of learning. A habit many students tend to fall into is using their time away as an excuse to go bar and city-hopping across Europe. While this can complement the experience, a common regret among students who go abroad is not having taken the time to explore the city they are in.
Returning to cura personalis, it is necessary to acknowledge that every student has different needs. The decision where to go abroad should be a carefully premeditated one, as programs are wildly different.
First, it is important to know the difference between internal and external programs. BC provides more of an infrastructure for internal programs, and so you will likely be surrounded by others from BC. Any grades and credits received abroad will count towards your GPA and transcript, and most students find that classes abroad are not as difficult as back home. Still, a notable drawback is that BC will charge you the same tuition you’d pay if you were studying in Chestnut Hill, even though the school at which you’ll be studying might charge a lower—and in some cases far lower—tuition.
External programs are different in that they do not let you transfer grades (though they will appear on your transcript), but they do let you transfer credits, though they have to be approved by BC first. At external programs you will also be paying tuition to the school you study at, and will have to arrange housing directly with the school, instead of through BC. External programs require more logistical effort on the student’s part, but pay off significantly as they can be far more tailored to a student’s expectations.
As for deciding where to go, though big cities like Rome, Madrid, and London might be appealing, there are over 100 programs in smaller cities that allow for a more individualized time abroad. If you prefer to be surrounded by a community of BC students, the big cities are recommended. If you want to leave the BC bubble however, look into lesser-known programs like those in Durham, Bergen, or Uppsala. Another thing to keep in mind is that different cities tend to focus on different fields of study, so it is important to choose somewhere that fits your trajectory.
At the end of the day, your time abroad is up to you. If you want to reach out and try new things, meet new people, and step out of your comfort zone, it is in your control. If you’d rather take it easier, be around people that remind you of home, and just enjoy the scenery, there is nothing wrong with that, too. Some programs will suit some better than others, and it is highly recommended to start looking into it as soon as possible as to find the perfect program for you.
Above all else, it is important to take advantage of the opportunities presented, and wherever you go, set the world aflame.