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

Hierarchies of Study Abroad

I remember sitting in the ICC at the Spain table at the Office of International Programs’ study abroad fair.

When sophomores told me they were thinking about only going abroad for a semester, I wanted to tell them to be braver.

When they told me they wanted to go to an English speaking country, I felt sorry for them.

When I heard a senior try to convince a sophomore that the small town of Alcala, Spain could be just as exciting as Madrid, it was more than I could handle.

Enough pretending. Not all study abroad experiences are equal in merit. Sophomores should not be misled by superiority complexes seniors have about where they went abroad. Behind all of the exaggerations, there is a reasonable hierarchy of what students did with their junior year.

Now, I am not saying that one study abroad site is better than all the others. People want different things from their study abroad experiences. The important thing is that sophomores figure out their expectations and identify the appropriate site.

Some students want to take a break from rigorous Georgetown life, so they go have fun for a semester in Australia. They want wild nights and they get them.

But for those who want to be more than American tourists, there are many options and more difficult decisions involved. Some want to personally challenge themselves or integrate into another culture.

Regardless of the motive, it is easy to miss out on the positives studying abroad can offer. I have seen sophomores get the wrong idea about certain sites because arrogant seniors exaggerate how much better their site was than all the others. Studying abroad is too important to mess up.

Maybe we can fine some justifiable criteria to sort through these superiority complexes.

Longetivity: The proudest returning seniors are those that went abroad for the full year. They gained fluency in a foreign language, learned about another country as if it were their own and integrated themselves into a foreign beyond American tourist status.

Students that go abroad for only a semester rarely achieve this because the short time period does not force them to adapt or give them time to. It takes about four months just to get comfortable living in a foreign city.

By the time they finally start to get it, they have to go home. Do full-year students deserve to feel superior about their experience?

First World vs. Third World: After a year in the developing world, returning seniors feel especially mature when they see newly Euro-ized Americans and reminisce about all-night discotheques and complain about the lack of quality peanut butter. Third-world students come back 25 pounds lighter and prepared to drink water mixed with purifying pellets rather than Red Bull mixed with Vodka.

If the goal was personal challenge, they have earned legitimacy. y boyfriend, who studied abroad in Senegal last year was confronted weekly by marriage proposals, slept through 100 degree nights with no fan or air conditioning and sacrificed a goat during a Muslim celebration.

Do they really deserve to feel like the newest “Survivor” champions?

On the other hand, I realize the Third World is not for everyone. I think some people romanticize Africa and end up wondering what was so cool about not using toilet paper or eating on the floor.

I enjoyed visiting Senegal, but two weeks was enough for me. I was ready for my jamón serrano that would not make me sick, Zara clothing that I could buy without bargaining and Spanish streets that weren’t obstructed by lost goats or cows.

For me, studying abroad meant living in a cosmopolitan city among the world’s best museums, cultured cafes and cutting-edge academics.

Languages: Others who think themselves are at the top of the hierarchy are those who speak a little too loud in their newly perfected Spanish, even to their American friends. My best friend is guilty of this, but I have to give her credit. She went from mediocre language skills to a proficiency that fools Spaniards.

The prospect of moving to a country where you have only a limited grasp on the language can be intimidating. Perfecting a foreign language, however, requires living in a country where it is spoken. ICC language labs can only help so much.

But I would like to add that Oxford and the London School of Economics are exceptions to this non-English category, because even in English, these schools are still considerably more challenging than Georgetown.

Finally, believe in the power of studying abroad. This sounds like a cliche, but studying abroad really can be a life-changing experience. Too many people mess up their junior up by chickening out.

If you want your studying abroad experience to consist of partying and being a tourist, then fine, go spend a semester in Western Europe. However, if you want more than that that, consider studying somewhere for a full year where you don’t speak the language. The risks you take will pay off.

Have some guts.

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