Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Leaving Behind Constraints

Courtesy Josh Zeitlin
Josh Zeitlin (COL ’13) campaigns with Obama for America in Charlotte before the Democratic National Convention.

For most students, “leave of absence” is euphemistic for something serious. Often prompted by medical emergencies or academic stress, they are seen to disrupt the flow of academic progress and leave conspicuous holes in transcripts.

But for some, leaves of absence provide the chance to pursue opportunities beyond the bounds of the Hilltop and the constraints of traditional study abroad offerings.

While the Office of International Programs provides options to study on five continents, its programs do not necessarily appeal to students seeking to step out from the university’s jurisdiction. Georgetown also does not offer programs in countries with State Department travel advisory warnings.

Gabe Pincus (SFS ’14) took a leave of absence this fall to spend the semester in Egypt and savored the lack of university-imposed structure during his time away.

Courtesy Gabe Pincus
Gabe Pincus researched waste management policy during his leave of absence in Cairo.

“I enjoyed having the freedom and not being restricted by really anything,” he said. “I was living right next to TahrirSquare, which is where all the action is happening. This wouldn’t be possible if I was studying abroad through Georgetown or enrolled in any formal program.”

Pincus said that students are often reluctant to go abroad through programs that are not university-sponsored.

“People underestimate their capabilities and there’s a lot to be gained from figuring things out yourself as opposed to having them organized for you,” he said.

But he said that his status as an independent student and researcher rather than as a foreign exchange student made for a more authentic Egyptian experience.

“If you’re going to be officially affiliated with the university or with any program, [it doesn’t] want [its] name on something if something bad happens. It’s bad publicity for the university,” Pincus said.

Sam Dulik (SFS ’13) took a leave of absence in fall 2011 to study at the University of the Andes in Bogota, Colombia — a country to which the State Department discourages travelling.

“Colombia has a State Department travel warning against it that is not based in reality. I had an incredibly safe experience,” said Dulik, who is writing his senior honors thesis on the Colombian government’s negotiations with major rebel groups and is relying heavily on his experience in the country. “No one touched a hair on my head. I was never unsafe. I was never threatened.”

For students pursuing work experience rather than travel, the promise of independence comes with responsibility.

Josh Zeitlin (COL ’13) stayed in the U.S. during his leave of absence last fall to work on President Obama’s re-election campaign in Charlotte, N.C. It was his second leave of absence after taking time off in fall 2010 to work for a Tennessee statehouse campaign and his third semester away from Georgetown including his semester abroad in Edinburgh in fall 2011.

While Zeitlin began his time with Obama for America during the summer as a border state fellow, he was promoted to field organizer when he decided to stay through November.

“There are important opportunities that come from seeing something like a campaign all the way through. The outcome of the campaign was too important to me and to so many other people for me to consider not continuing through the fall semester,” Zeitlin said.

Sebastian Silva (SFS ’15) also took a leave of absence to work for the Obama campaign last fall. He decided to leave Georgetown for the semester after being offered a job working for the campaign in New Mexico.

“I don’t know when I would have another opportunity to go and work on a campaign for seven months,” Silva said.

Cole Lautermilch (SFS ’14), who stayed closer to Georgetown as an intern in a public defender’s office in D.C. as an investigator for the parole commission, said that he was able to see a different side of the District during his leave of absence.

“I think I came back with a better sense of what I wanted to do after I graduated and what I wanted to do with my time here,” he said.

Along with excitement and boundless possibilities, those who go abroad without university support often face a unique set of challenges.

Rather than arriving to a welcoming host family or the relatively familiar scene of a college dormitory,Dulik landed in Colombia without housing or any guidance as to where to find it.

“I got a hotel for three nights. I had zero idea where I was going to be staying or living after that,” he said. “I literally got off the plane and purchased a copy of El Tiempo, the Bogotá newspaper, and just starting poring through classifieds.”

Leaves of absence also raise questions on college transcripts and earn students no credit, concerns that Dulik was quick to dismiss.

“I am very cognizant of the fact [that] on my transcript it says, ‘From June 2011 to the beginning of January 2012 Sam Dulik was on a leave of absence,’ but when presenting [that experience] on a job interview it wasn’t like I was just chilling. I was doing an academic experience to complement my Georgetown curriculum,” Dulik said. “You don’t get any recognition of courses you took but it was important to me to generate this study abroad experience into my broader trajectory.”

Zeitlin agreed that his leave of absence was worth any negative stigma.

“I can’t imagine that taking time off to do something you are passionate about will hurt in the job search, and if it does that’s probably not an employer I want to work for,”Zeitlin said.

Those who have taken leaves of absence were also quick to point out that the cost of going abroad independently is far less than that of studying abroad through Georgetown.

Pincus said that his entire trip to Egypt cost about $9,000, whereas if he had gone on a Georgetown study abroad program, he would have had to pay full tuition.

“Essentially I’ve saved enough money to, basically, if I want to after I graduate, go back to Egypt and not even have a job,” he said.

Dulik was able to use the money he saved during his leave of absence to travel extensively in Latin America.

“I had a massively increased amount of autonomy to chart my own course,” he said.

For his part, Zeitlin will be graduating a semester late because of his two semesters away from the Hilltop, a reality that causes him little concern.

“I looked at it as I’m going to graduate when I’m going to graduate and that these were really great opportunities,”Zeitlin said.

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