COLUMN: The Abroad Decision
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 23:10
To go abroad or not to go abroad: the extremely difficult question.
Boston College panelists and tour guides always speak of how easy it is to go abroad. I too, am guilty of this accusation. I can clearly remember standing by the statue of St. Ignatius one crisp fall day sophomore year telling the prospective students that yes, it was easy to go abroad and that I was one to know, as I was just starting the process. Unfortunately, I lied. In fact, we all do. Of course this isn’t intentional, as a naive fall-semester sophomore I did not know the perils and struggles that lay ahead, but nonetheless, what we say is just not true. Each tour we give, we misguide not only the wide-eyed high school seniors and their respective inquisitive family members, but also ourselves. Now, as it comes time for freshmen, sophomores, and last-minute juniors to make their own decisions, let’s look at the truth behind the tangled relationship of BC and studying abroad.
First comes the decision:
While freshman year is spent trying to figure out what you will be involved with at BC and finding that group of friends that just “get you,” sophomore year is when the dust settles. It is not a misconception that sophomores run this school, for it is in the second year that leadership positions are doled out, awards are won, and friendships are solidified. This is also the time when the Office of International Programs (OIP) starts to email you ferociously and your friends start to talk about which country they want to see. Just as you finally get your feet on the ground, you begin to wonder if you can give up the perfect life you have formed among the halls of Gasson and Stokes. Won’t you miss your friends and family? What will you do without seeing the leaves change over Bapst Lawn or the stream of runners on Marathon Monday? At the time, these internal struggles seem like the hardest part of going abroad. Yet amid the self-doubt and confusion, you make the decision. Time to start looking at programs!
Next comes the reaction to the decision:
My experience was similar to many others. My friends took my choice personally, the clubs and organizations I cared about denied me important roles for junior year, and let’s not even get into housing issues. One can quickly see the culture at BC is just not made for students to take a semester away. This seems strange, right? They say over 40 percent of students go abroad during their junior year, yet the whole social structure is designed to punish you if you do. I, along with many of my friends, lost leadership positions while others stayed behind simply so they wouldn’t. There are few things I dislike about BC, but this tops my list.
Then comes the fight with the Hovey House:
What do you mean this course won’t count toward my major? Why can’t you fax this for me—it will take weeks for it to get over the ocean? Why can’t I study where I actually want to? The Hovey House claims to be this beacon of light when it comes to navigating international programs, but be warned, that is only if you have done all the work yourself and have chosen an internal program. To say they were useless would mean they did nothing, when in reality they simply made the whole task so much harder. The paperwork and little information they actually provide makes you feel alone and lost, not to mention the initial picture they take of you is bound to look terrible and haunt you for the rest of your BC career.
Finally there is the hardest part:
Right now, I’m still in the honeymoon phase. I am living abroad and have finally managed to find a balance when it comes to communicating with friends back at BC. The toughest part is yet to come: the return home. This is an inevitable trap for all those who go abroad, for those who did not leave will not understand that it is hard to re-acclimate, and that those who did leave are baffled when they learn their clubs and activities, along with their friend group, did just fine without them. This return to an environment heavily influenced by the social group you partake in will be scary and lonely, since many of the important aspects which make up your BC experience were taken away the second you decided to go abroad. Oh, and now you have to go back to the heavy workload and schedule only a madman would commit to, so add that on top of it all.
Yet somewhere between the tug of war with the Hovey House and returning home, there is a moment of clarity. Yes, the struggle is real, but it is worth it. Maybe it’s the moment when you can give correct directions in a foreign city and language. Maybe it’s the moment when your new flatmates inform you that you are not allowed to go home come winter because they would miss you too much. It could be after you step off an hour-long plane and realize you are in a different country, or the first time you leave your Euro-trip weekend getaway to go “home.” Each person will have a different moment, yet its significance will be the same. You will come to realize this was worth it—the perpetual struggle with paperwork, the fights with friends, and the terrifying thought of the unknown back home, are all worth the hassle. Because, truth be told, this really is the time of your life.