By Sruthi Swami
*Fun fact #1: about 200 students from Barnard study abroad every year.
*Fun fact #2: Barnard has been sending women abroad since 1930.
This time last year, I was elated after having been accepted into a study abroad program in France. Studying abroad had never been on my mind until the end of the semester before (Fall 2009), and after having spoken to a few friends who had gone abroad, I decided to apply.
It was honestly one of the best experiences I have ever had. I studied abroad in Grenoble, France, a small city at the foot of the Alps in the southeast of the country. We were surrounded on all sides by mountains, a river ran through the city, and barely anyone spoke English (or spoke it well at least). For my program, we were required to live with a host family, which was probably the best living option possible. My family consisted of six people, plus two other exchange students who spoke English fluently. We decided that our goal was to learn French, so our hosts did not speak English with us. In addition, all my classes were in French, and I joined the university’s volleyball team. It was complete immersion in the culture of Grenoble.
Now, back at Barnard College, or more generally, back in the United States, I find myself missing France more than ever, eagerly awaiting the day that I can go back. More than anything, when I look back on my semester abroad, I feel grateful to have been given the opportunity to go to another country, and I am grateful to have learned so many valuable things.
What I love, however, is that it is an instant conversation starter. When I tell people that I studied abroad, I find myself bombarded with questions. Where did you go? What did you do? Did you like it? How are the people? Is it weird being back here? How should I go about the process? I love answering these questions, as repetitive as they may get, because I believe that studying abroad – or even traveling to another country at all – is so important for people of our generation. We are living in an increasingly globalized world. Everyone is becoming interconnected, diversity is increasing, and with the expansion of the Internet and other technologies, the entire world is coming together. Studying abroad is one of the best ways to keep up with this increasingly globalized society. Being in another country allows you to experience new cultures and ways of life while fulfilling your college requirements. Many people say that study abroad is a party, but it is also a time for you to expand your understanding of the people you share oxygen with.
When I went to my friend’s graduation at The George Washington University in the spring of 2010 right before going abroad, the graduation speaker, First Lady Michelle Obama, made it a point to emphasize how important it is to study abroad. While she stated that it is a way to learn about others, she also spoke about how spending a semester in another country is also a way to learn about oneself, something that I wholeheartedly agree with. Going abroad can be the most amazing experience ever, or the worst experience ever. It may show you something completely unexpected. Any way you look at it, you will learn something about yourself.
This past Wednesday evening, I attended the Barnard Snap Fish Study Abroad Photography Competition (I placed second in the competition). I was blown away not only by the pictures that were taken, but also by the diversity of places where students had studied. They had studied in Tibet, Madagascar, France, Spain, Italy, England, South Africa, and China, among other countries, and each photo taken showed off vastly different experiences that clearly seemed to have had huge impacts on the students. What hit me the most about this event was that even though most of us had different experiences abroad, we had all been brought together by the fact that we had studied internationally.
Going abroad is a special experience. While each country and experience is different, there is something that all students who have studied abroad share. That is the experience of having gone out of the United States, out of our comfort zones, and having tried new things. We have widened our horizons (hopefully) and have come back with a whole treasure trove of information. Studying abroad may have been a vacation for some of us, and for others it may have been hard work. But in the end, it is a profound experience that has impacted us in some manner.
In conclusion, go abroad! Even if it’s not to study, go abroad and do something. Backpack around Europe, study the sand in the Sahara desert, or even take pictures of peacocks in India. You will be glad for the cultural experience and for the chance to get out of the bubble that is America for a little while.
*facts were taken from the Barnard College Study Abroad website
Sruthi is a junior at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.