Study abroad… these words so often slip off the tongues of university students. To escape the drudgery of everyday college life, students look to overseas to add a touch of spice and variety, all for class credit of course. I think it’s fantastic!
I was recently interviewed by the very cultured and polished Edward James Herath of Intellectual Masculinity. This London-based, self-professed flaneur asked me several questions regarding my travels. Given his contagious enthusiasm and the fact that his self-description was in fact a French word (see a connection?), I felt inclined to answer. Naturally, how I started traveling popped up in the conversation.
My answer for that: study abroad. It was Spring Break, March of 2004. Unlike the majority of college kids, I was not headed to the beach to drink and “tan” (read: burn). I grew up 15 minutes from a beach and I still hardly ever went… but that’s a different story. No, I was joining a small group of my peers to fly to rainy, cold, dreary London – the opposite of a Cancun holiday. Why? Firstly, I had never been overseas. This would be my very first experience with a long-haul flight. Secondly, London seemed like an easy place to start. I speak English, they speak English… win, win. But still… why? To study theater. Our group was set to see 9 plays in 7 days… and where better to do that than in London?
So my 20-year old self got a passport, got a plane ticket, and bought a coat. I am a Floridian, we don’t do cold weather, but I was prepared. Or so I thought…
That’s me, doing the super touristy thing of climbing on the lions at Trafalgar Square (I don’t care – I’d still do it today). As you can see, I’m wrapped up like a burrito – scarf, headband, coat and layers underneath – and trust me, no one else around was as pouffy as I was. And you’ll notice I had much lighter hair here. Anyways… in spite of having a tightly packed schedule of various plays, we were still allowed time to roam the city and explore on our own. See? Study abroad for Spring Break isn’t so bad! Especially when you have these views!!
The city was buzzing – so vibrant, so full of colorful characters (dressed in black, of course), and so new. I would say “foreign” here, but as my definition of the word foreign has changed immensely, I can’t really remember if that was my impression according to my definition then. For 7 days we hopped around the city, ticking off the main sights and taking in the London theater scene. That was impressive – seeing productions ranging from large musicals such as “The Lion King” to smaller plays performed in attic theaters. I did see the marvelous Dame Judy Dench perform in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” although I probably shouldn’t claim that because I did in fact fall asleep. Sorry Judy… catch you next time.
So my point in telling you this story is that this trip was the very tip of the iceberg for the role that travel would play in my life – and it’s a pretty big iceberg. I was overseas for the first time, but still in my comfort zone – I had the guidance of the professor who accompanied us and the company of the other students. From here, I have traveled for almost 10 years now. Much of that as a student. I’ll tell you the #1 reason why this is such a good option, besides having a built-in community as a safety net: visas. Those are the leprechauns of the traveler’s world. Working visas and extended stay visas are often a bureaucratic nightmare to obtain, but student visas are relatively easy. Especially for shorter stints at study abroad. Take advantage of it while you can. The #2 reason: it opens doors. All, and mean every single one, of my travels after my short study abroad trips have been a result of doors that had opened while being overseas. Usually in the form of people I met, who, thanks to the fancy internet thing, are easier and easier to stay in touch with. No reason not to go really!
Now that I’ve convinced you that you can’t possibly go another day without planning a fabulous (study) trip somewhere, you’re probably wondering that pesky question: how. Not to worry, many schools offer a variety of study abroad programs to suit the diversity of their students’ needs. But on the chance that you don’t find one that you are irresistibly drawn to, there are more options. Websites exist that have gathered lists upon lists of programs, most if not all of them having relationships or affiliations with universities to ensure participants receive their due class credits. Two of the most popular sites are:
Take a look. I will refrain, because it will only exacerbate my wanderlust and I will then contemplate how to spend my life savings on yet another degree… but education is never wasted, surely?