There's No Wrong Decision For Where To Study Abroad
Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
I spent my junior year studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, and, to answer the three most typical questions right off the bat: yes, it was a whole year; yes, I miss it; and yes, it’s great to be back at Boston College. Looking back, it can seem like my time spent in Cape Town was a strange cocktail mix of unforgettable travel, steady adjustments to everyday life in a foreign city, studying, volunteering, and, well, cocktails.
When I came home, I was sure that I had had the best study-abroad experience possible. I had lived in the best house and been a part of the best program in the world’s best city. Nowhere could match Cape Town’s natural beauty and eclectic mix of culture and language. Yeah sure, I had friends who had been all over Europe, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, but my experience was the best. I was positive. In fact, I was expecting some sort of audience—eager friends waiting to hear tales of Victoria Falls swimming holes, road trips to Mozambique, and Cape Town taxi rides that I had barely survived. But instead of jaw-dropped "oohs" and "ahhs," my stories were met mostly with "Yup, I had something like that happen to me in …."
Despite the vast geographical differences in BC’s countless internal and external study-abroad programs, there are a few things I know that each of my classmates who spent time abroad last year have in common. First, it is the unwavering opinion that their study abroad experience was the best, and that they wouldn’t change a single thing about it—except maybe a few late night binges on somewhat sketchy street-cart food. Second, it is the urge to share nostalgia-ridden abroad stories with anyone and everyone who will listen. The urge may be controlled, confined by everyday conversations on classes, plans for the weekend, and "hey do you remember when I saw you last night?"
But once in a while, it breaks free. Maybe we ask ridiculously leading questions: "This song reminds me of Maputo! Have you ever been to Maputo?" Or maybe you run into a friend from your program: "Dude, do you remember what we were doing this time last year?" Either way, we can’t help it. There’s a need to reflect on all of these perspective-altering experiences, a need to share them with friends who may have fallen out of touch while you were gone, and, yes, a need to impress peers with your awesome worldliness.
There is certainly a badge of honor that comes with spending a substantial period of time as a stranger in a foreign land—be it a summer, a semester, or a year. Whether you had some crazy nights club-hopping in European capitals, or somehow got scuba certified despite a wicked hangover from overpriced Australian bagged wine, each experience feels so personally unique and amazing that it can be difficult, when asked about it, not to gush (and for the record, there is no better bar in the world than Champ’s Sports Pub in Mowbray, Cape Town. That’s not gushing. That’s a fact.)
Of all the people I have asked casually about their time abroad, not one would tell an underclassman not to do exactly what they did. And I mean exactly.
It’s obvious why a fierce loyalty to every abroad program develops: Your program placement is your home. It’s a strange and satisfying sensation to feel so deeply rooted in a place that has such vast geographic, national, and cultural difference compared to BC. The somewhat ridiculous notion that your study-abroad program was the best, then, is not a preference for one city, one country, or even one continent over another. It’s the undying devotion that comes from discovering yet another home.
So if you’re thinking about studying abroad and don’t know where to choose, just pick something. It doesn’t matter if you’ve wanted to go there since you can remember or if you simply spun a globe and stuck your finger somewhere. Nowhere you go will be exactly what you expect and nowhere you go will disappoint. The only advice I have to prospective study-abroad students is to forget any anxieties and expectations and just go. I promise you will have an amazing time.
If you still can’t decide, go to Cape Town. It’s obviously the best program.