To Ecuador or Oxford?

Earlier this semester, I decided that I wanted to study abroad. Studying abroad with the CS major can be slightly problematic if you have particular electives in mind. I intend to do the programming languages specialization and the electives for it are offered only in alternate fall semesters. So I looked for Spring 2016 study abroad programs. My choices were limited to English speaking countries. After speaking to an academic adviser, I ended up applying to Oxford and Cambridge to study Philosophy and Logic. Since it’s closely related to computation and programming languages, I was able to put together a coherent application, although I have hardly taken any classes in those subjects.

In March, a housemate emailed our list-serve with information about a class titled “Student Community Partnerships in Latin America”. The class involves learning about and working with a community in Intag, Ecuador, on projects related to sustainable economic development. Intag is a “cloud forest”, with extremely rich biodiversity. Faced with the threat of copper mining which might contaminate the pristine water in the area, the community is developing alternative economic practices. So far, that’s all I know about the class. The class also involves a trip to Ecuador during Winter break, when can students collaborate with their community partners on particular projects. I was strongly attracted to this class for two reasons:

1) It pays a lot of attention to the topic, “What does it mean to help?”. In the past, I have found that a lot of service learning programs underplay the learning aspect and there tends to be an unequal power dynamic. The Intag program seemed to be exactly how I envisioned an ideal engaged-learning program.

2) I learnt Spanish at Cornell and absolutely loved the language. Traveling to a Spanish speaking country would fulfill a long-time wish. Previous participants said that the trip to Ecuador was not very touristy, although they did visit some tourist spots towards the end. That sounded perfect.

So I ended up writing a very enthusiastic application for the class as well. By mid April, I learnt that I was accepted to the Ecuador class. I couldn’t contain my excitement, until I read that I wouldn’t be able to take the trip to Ecuador if I will be studying abroad in the Spring. But I hadn’t heard back about my study abroad applications yet, so I postponed thinking about it. This week, I received an acceptance letter from an Oxford college’s visiting student program for Spring 2016. While I was glad about the acceptance and the prospect of spending a semester at Oxford, I knew I might decline the offer.

I didn’t have to think long to decide which one might be a better learning experience for me. While Oxford would be a fantastic environment to be in, I felt that the Ecuador program would widen my worldview far more than Oxford could. Although there are great cultural and historical differences between Oxford and Cornell, essentially, both are elite universities. So the people I meet and know at Cornell are more likely to similar to those I might meet at Oxford than in Ecuador. The Ecuador class/trip seems like the more enriching life experience at this point in my life.

In addition, a required class for the programming languages vector – the infamous Compilers, is being offered in the Spring instead of the Fall this following year. Staying at Cornell in Spring 2016 makes my academic decisions much easier! So I’ve decided to decline the visiting student offer from St.Catherine’s at Oxford and take the “Student Community Partnership in Ecuador” class instead. I’m already looking forward to next semester!

Intag! 😀