Students share their experiences abroad in unconventional locations
Published: Sunday, September 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 15, 2013 23:09
Choosing to study abroad can define a Boston College student’s experience. It shapes and completely changes one’s world for an entire semester, or even a year, removed from the BC Bubble that’s become comfortable for the past two years.
There are many ways to ensure that one still feels connected to BC throughout this process, namely choosing to embark on one of the more popular internal study abroad programs such as BC in Madrid or Parma, Italy. In these programs, students are surrounded by 30 or more other BC students, living with them, taking classes with them, and participating on trips planned by BC together. There is constant contact with the BC administration as it is essentially an international extension of the University. The perks to doing one of these more popular programs is the ease with which the academic nuances are handled by the BC administration, the increased attention from BC during the months spent away from campus, and the chance to foster friendships that are transferable back to campus even after the semester is over.
Many students, however, look at their abroad semesters as an opportunity to detach themselves completely from the BC Bubble and really be immersed into their host nation. Study abroad can be looked at as an opportunity to become entirely incorporated into local customs, practices, and culture—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reside in a foreign land.
In order to more effectively complete this immersion process, it is better to go alone, unencumbered by fellow Americans or BC students.
“I had always thought I would go to Italy or France but then I realized that everyone else would be there so I decided to try something else—I didn’t want my experience to be BC in Europe,” said Taylor Latimer, A&S ’14, who studied in Vienna for the spring semester of her junior year.
Latimer was the “guinea pig” for BC’s internal program in Vienna, the first and only student to study abroad in the Austrian capital or attend the Vienna University of Economics and Business.
“I went to OIP for my initial meeting and met with Larry Pickener, who is the head of the German BC programs,” Latimer said. “I was thinking I would go to Germany because I knew that it was good for business studies and I honestly just thought it had a cool language. Larry told me though that they had just dropped their business program in Germany, and he suggested I try out the new program they were putting together in Vienna.” Latimer took the plunge and decided to give it a go, with minimal expectations and no one to look to for advice.
As the only BC student there, Latimer lived on an international hall, where she gravitated toward other American students from University of South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and D.C. “I just didn’t feel like BC was a huge part of it, but not in a bad way. I didn’t ever contact BC while I was there and didn’t want to,” Latimer said. “It was actually amazing how quickly I bonded with the people I was with. After three weeks it felt like we were best friends.”
Kate Leuba, A&S ’14, had a similar experience as far as friendships were concerned when she was living and studying in Egypt for the entirety of her junior year. The only BC student there, she became fast friends with the surprisingly large number of other Americans studying at the American University in Cairo with her.
“For me it was kind of obvious to go to Egypt,” Leuba said. “I was studying Arabic and Islamic relations. Islamic relations just fascinates me because American’s perceptions are so off after 9/11. And Egypt was the only country besides Morocco that was an option for study abroad, and Cairo is the center of the Arab world so I had to do it.” With much nervous anticipation, the situation was different than she expected once she arrived.
“I didn’t really think I would have a social life—it’s such a conservative country,” Leuba said. “First of all, there were a bunch of Americans studying abroad there so that definitely helped. The Egyptians themselves were very welcoming, friendly, and fun. They would invite me over to dinner really easily.” The negative aspects were wearing by the end of the full year though: “The daily lifestyle was very tiring. At first you’re in a dream, and it’s easy to let a lot of the negative parts of the culture go unnoticed. Yet there is a lot of sexual harassment. Easy to block out because it’s in Arabic, but that combined with the clothing requirements and just the dirtiness of the city is a lot after a while.” Leuba is very happy to be back stateside, but said she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. “I really learned how inaccurately the Middle East is portrayed in the media, particularly the American media,” Leuba said in reference to her biggest takeaway. As far as advice, “I would definitely recommend this experience to any BC student with a very open and adventurous mind.”