Jeremy Fong ’23, a SOAN major and Cross-Cultural Studies/European Studies minor, is currently studying abroad with the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) in Berlin.
When asked the question “What advice do you have for other students who are considering studying abroad?” this is what he had to say:
As a student worker for Carleton’s Off-Campus Studies office, I am basically a certified expert on all things study abroad. Though my “official” office responsibilities have nothing to do with promoting studying abroad, I often find myself doing it anyway. Having had the opportunity to live and attend high school abroad, studying abroad was an integral part of my upbringing. In many ways, this experience expanded my worldview in ways that no singular classroom could ever teach me, and I am much better for it. Therefore, for me, recommending others to study abroad is a matter of prior experience. There will hardly ever be another opportunity in someone’s life to go to a completely new country where your only goal is to study and learn.
However, due to the pandemic, studying abroad no longer carries the same allure it did only a couple years ago. Now the decision of studying abroad must be contextualized by the global pandemic. Is it safe to travel? Will I even be able to get into the country if it is? Will I be able to get vaccinated in time? Will it be worth it with all the travel restrictions? The questions are boundless, and their answers are much more pivotal than the answers to questions that were once asked about studying abroad.
During the first Fall and Winter of the pandemic, Carleton was one of only a handful of schools that offered a study abroad option for its students. As soon as this option was announced, my friends immediately consulted with me what I thought about going abroad. Going through this process with them really illuminated the many ways in which COVID has reshaped students’ mindsets on studying abroad. What I found most interesting from this experience was that the most troubling aspect of studying abroad for most of my friends was not fear of safety. Rather, it was the fear of missing out from the college life that COVID had already eaten so much into. Because of the pandemic, many students were forced to return home and take classes online away from the lives they had grown accustomed to. For many, this return home represented the loss of precious time to “live the college life”, and studying abroad seemed to eat more of that precious time. It would seem that the time students had spent at home was their “study-away” and that was all the time they had allotted for it.
However, this idea of the “college life” does illuminate the ways in which we conceptualize how we plan to spend our time at college. Ultimately, the question comes down to whether studying abroad is worth being away from the life you imagined for yourself in college.
Even with my extensive knowledge of the process of studying abroad, I can not give you a definitive answer on whether or not you should study abroad. Unfortunately, if you are looking for a be-all-end all type of answer, you came to the wrong place. However, what I can help you with is how to make this decision for yourself. Deciding to study abroad ultimately comes down to a matter of priorities, and that is something only we can decide for ourselves. As a low-income student, I will have very few opportunities to have someone else pay for me to travel to Europe to study a subject I am passionate about. Subsequently when I imagined my college life, I always envisioned studying abroad would be an integral part of that experience. For others, that might not be the case. Perhaps if they are international students, studying at an American university is already studying abroad for them. Or perhaps for others, college is a time to hang out with friends and bask in the experience of learning with one another.
However, regardless of your situation, the answer is ultimately up to you. If it were up to me, I would encourage everyone to do it. But I only live one life and so do you. Therefore, if you are still stuck on your decision of whether or not you want to study abroad, think to yourself what are your priorities and how do they fit into the journey you envisioned for yourself. I am certain along the way you will find your answer.