The Following Letter Is In Response To 'Study Abroad' By Marye Moran
Published: Friday, December 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
I want to begin this email with a disclaimer that everything I am about to communicate to you is meant with all due respect. However, I feel very strongly about what I am going to say, and unfortunately I have a feeling you might take some of this personally. So please keep that in mind as you read.
I really don't know where to begin. I guess I should start by saying that I was appalled at your column, and for a variety of reasons. For starters, I cannot believe you would have the audacity to write so freely and with conviction on a topic you have so little knowledge about. I don't care how much research you have done into studying abroad, or what motions you have gone through to get ready for your semester abroad this spring, because what it all boils down to is this: you have not studied abroad. Therefore, you have not the slightest clue what you're writing about in terms of studying abroad being "worth it" or not. I'm not a journalist, but if I was, I can tell you right now I would never, ever, write an article (even an opinion piece) on a subject that I was not fully aware of, educated on, or had not experienced for myself. I cannot believe you had the thought to do that.
Secondly, I believe you have done a great disservice to the Boston College community by running this article. If one freshman or sophomore who reads that column decides not to pursue any interest in studying abroad because of what you said, you have cheated not only them, but also the entire community here at BC. I will further explain why later on. Marye, as a junior on this campus, an upperclassmen, your intuition in large part guides and makes an impression on younger students. To have gone ahead and guided them with such misinformation is deeply upsetting to me.
To address some specifics, let me tell you about what actually happens when you study abroad. For one thing, you have an amazing experience, no matter where you go, or what you do. Even if you have a "bad time," you will still have a good experience. That is possible because you will learn about yourself in a way that you never did before, whether you had a good time or bad. I studied abroad my spring semester of my Junior year to Madrid, Spain. I studied at the Universidad de Complutense, Spain's largest and most prestigious public university. It was a BC program, but all my professors were from my host university, and all my classes were conducted in Spanish. I lived in a Spanish dorm associated with the university, and lived with 130 Spanish men my age in their residence that operated much like a fraternity.
In short, my experience and the experience of my friends was nothing but amazing. I was immersed in Spanish culture, made lifelong friends, learned a new language, and developed new and fresh perspectives on life that I have taken back to the Heights with me. I understand in your article you say that "most" people don’t get the kind of experience I had, and you believe that is not the time or place for that experience anyway. Well then, when is? When you are out of college trying to start a career? And I'll tell you right now, going to Europe for a month with your friends after college to gallivant around and take pictures is not the same as spending five months in a foreign country trying to live, eat, make friends, and establish a life for yourself.
You go so far as to say "While cultural understanding and language skills are helpful, both of those qualities can be achieved in a context other than a semester abroad"....Who are you to say that? How do you know that can be achieved in such a way? I will tell you right now, after having taken years of Spanish classes, that those qualities cannot be achieved to the degree necessary to call them qualities at all without having been abroad for a significant amount of time. Your opinion is supported by no backbone, and stems from no evidence to support your claim, a claim that you fed to 10,000 undergraduates. Last time I checked, we didn’t have our doctors only practice on dummies and manikins, we have them practice on real humans too, in order to achieve the qualities of being a doctor. No one would say a doctor achieved the qualities to practice medicine if they only worked on manikins, would they? Similarly, you can’t achieve qualities of cultural understanding and language skills without actually going to the country where the culture and language exists. You can’t accomplish something contextual out of context; it doesn’t work like that. You wouldn't know though, since you never did it yourself.
I was not fluent in Spanish before I left. In fact, I only went up to Intermediate II my freshman year here at BC, took no Spanish sophomore year at all, and then went abroad spring junior year. It was sink or swim when I got there, and I trusted the stories I heard all my life about how when you get to a country you just "pick it up" so much more easily. And you know what, those stories (not opinions) were right...and I can confirm that because my friends and I actually did it. Fifty BC students in Madrid will testify that we all had an amazing cultural experience and learned a language, something that you claim just doesn't happen for most who go abroad.
While you are correct that Americans may live with Americans, and they may travel a lot, you are so wrong that they don’t become immersed in the culture of their host country. That is a choice individuals make. It is not because it is not possible, it is because individuals choose to become immersed or they don’t. What you get out of your study abroad experience is what you choose to put into it, but again, you wouldn't know that since you haven’t done it yet. So for you to say that people just automatically don’t and can’t become immersed in culture is blasphemous.