It’s hard for me to not mention my experiences abroad every other day. In fact, if I wasn’t working for CU Abroad 3 days a week with other study abroad students and faculty, I would have gone insane by now. All I want to talk about is traveling, and I’m almost afraid I overwhelm the wary students who come into office hours with my excitement.
Even though it’s been a year since I’ve been abroad, the experiences and the memories have made an everlasting impact and strengthened my character. It has changed the course of my career, the way I think, and most importantly, how I view the world. Suffice to say, being abroad gave me an education that I could not have otherwise learned in a traditional academic setting. Yes, Cornell offers amazing opportunities and resources but trust me when I say, going abroad strengthens those opportunities in a very unique way.
With President Skorton’s recent encouragement for global awareness, the topic of study abroad has been up for much debate and many misconceptions among students have arisen. I’ve found that these misconceptions are often sweeping generalizations of an individual experience, and I would like to take this opportunity to revive my old study abroad blog to address them.
1. “I don’t have the language requirement to go anywhere.”
This is said mainly by A&S students, and it’s completely understandable. A&S has a very strict rule about languages and studying abroad, but none of the other colleges do. I understand that not many people have the time to fulfill this requirement, especially with everything else going on at Cornell. But that does not mean you can’t go ANYWHERE. Your options are not limited by the language. I am also in A&S, and I applied to Cornell with every intention to study abroad. I studied Chinese for Native Speakers to fulfill my language requirement, yet I never had the intention nor interest to go to China or Taiwan (I go almost every other summer for my family). Instead I made the very impromptu decision (a month before the deadline) to go to Denmark. And while I was there, I took a Danish Language & Culture class.
2. “Well, academics aren’t as rigorous as Cornell’s, and I’m afraid I’m not getting anything of value…”
Academics may not be as rigorous as Cornell’s at some programs but some are just as demanding, especially with research components. Immersing yourself in the culture also means understanding the differences in education. It all depends on how you maximize your academic opportunities abroad.
When I took “Human Rights in Africa” at the University of Copenhagen, I was completely thrown off by the teaching style. The Danish professors laughed at the American concept of “busy work,” and assigned only one short reading a week. Attendance was mandatory. There weren’t any quizzes or exams, but your entire grade depended on a final independent research paper. We all thought this was easy until we saw that the average grade (7) was the equivalent to a C in the American grading system.
“Wait, so…what does it take to get a 12 (A)?!” said one of my fellow American classmates.
My Danish professor widened his eyes in disbelief and said, “But..a 7 (C) is very good! To get a 12, it would have to publishable in an academic journal, and that is very rare…”
“…Is there a curve?” another student ventured.
Needless to say, my work would not be publishable in any Human Rights journals, but I learned so much more through the discussions I had with my professors and the Danish students than just simply memorizing facts and figures for a prelim. The professor challenged us to think differently and go beyond grades, academics and readings. He emphasized the dialogue we create about human rights could potentially impact and shape the politics and policies of humanitarian aid, which is so much more than what your GPA can do.
3. “I won’t graduate on time.”
Unless you’ve been fooling around every single semester and not planning ahead at all, you WILL graduate on time. I even had enough credits to graduate a semester early after coming back from abroad, if it were not for my decision to stay and do a thesis. Talk to your college advisors and come to office hours at Caldwell Hall to talk to CU Abroad advisors on how you can plan ahead and work out your schedule.
4. “All my friends who went abroad said all they did was party and drink and travel!”
If we want to get very technical here, your friends do not make up a significant sample size (and besides, what do they do here on the weekends? Stay in Olin library?) I’m not going to deny that there are a lot of opportunities to travel and have fun, but it all depends on what you make of that. While I was in Denmark, I not only took a Danish Language & Culture class, but I also took a European History class (even though I had already had my fair share of AP European History and a few history courses at Cornell). But by taking those two classes, I was able to broaden my knowledge of European history and culture, so when I did get the opportunity to travel, I wasn’t just wandering around like a mindless tourist.
It’s not up to Cornell (or anyone else, for that matter) to assign meaning to your experiences, that’s solely up to you and you alone.
5. “I can’t afford it…”
Everyone’s financial situation is unique. I don’t want to be a major buzzkill, but right before I went abroad, my family went through a huge financial crisis. Our house in California was foreclosed and our lives took a turn for the worst.
MANY students do not understand that going abroad is no different than staying at Cornell for another semester. Your financial aid adjusts to the program and transfers over, and in addition, there are many grants and scholarships CU Abroad (and its featured study abroad programs) offers. If you do not currently have financial aid, there are programs and university that are actually cheaper than a semester at Cornell.
There is also the issue of other countries being more expensive than the US. Again, I must stress that there are grants and scholarship that may fit your needs. Research and plan ahead to apply before their deadline.
Do your research and see what else is out there (there’s literally a whole world waiting for you)…you never know what new adventures may come of it!
If you have any additional questions or comments about study abroad, feel free to leave a comment below (I always reply), email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop by Office Hours at 300 Caldwell Hall everyday from 1:30 – 3:00 PM. I’ll be there Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.