There have been a couple of posts floating around lately of peoples regrets in not doing a study abroad while in college. This used to be one of the few ways kids traveled overseas on the cheap (aka: mom and dad) or for the first time. Things have changed a lot in the last 10 or 20 years in the way of traveling and just because you didn’t do a proper study abroad doesn’t mean you are going to be stuck at home for the rest of your life. Nor can “staying home” (not leaving the country) be frowned upon! It took leaving the country for me to realize how lucky we are in the US. We can surf and ski, see fine art, hike in the sun and snow and about a million other things in the same day (depending on where you live in the country) without the need of a passport. There are very few (if any!) countries that you can do all that.
When it came time for me to decide on where to “study abroad” I wanted to go everything. I wanted to do a semester in London and a year in Australia. So you may think it was an odd choice for me then to choose a whole different program and do a semester at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst through the National Student Exchange . To back the truck up even more, I think I have said this before, but I did not like school. I went to college because it was expected of me (both my parents went to ivy-ish schools (Mom=Barnard, Dad=Berkeley) so I was 2nd generation) and I knew I couldn’t get a job without it. I knew I wasn’t ready for the “real world” so I killed time with college and worked and did internships. I used my summer vacations for travel and spent all the money I earned during the year. I associated LA with “working hard” while everything else was play. Why would I want to spend a whole bunch of money and be stuck in class every day? When I was in the study abroad office, I found out about the NSE and changed my plan. I lived at home, commuted to school and worked. This was not the “typical, Felicity college experience” my year saw and wanted to achieve. I liked where I ended up, but I wanted to experience something different as well. I wanted to live in a dorm. I wanted to have no work commitments. I wanted to see what it was like when school was your world. To not have a car. To live in a small college town. To see snow fall from the sky! UMass fit all those expectations. After 3 years, I knew I didn’t want it forever (and in hindsight, I could have never really gone to a school like that), but what else is a “study abroad” if not to learn and experience a different culture? Sign me up! If you look at the schools who participate, it’s mainly state schools. No ivys, just middle of the road schools for the everyday student. Most schools have a 1:1 exchange which means you have to send people to the same school you accept people. Oddly (or not) U of Hawaii at Manoa (in Honolulu) was the top school in the country. One kid from CSUN went there and all she took was hula and whatnot because it was her last semester! Anyway, I was a little worried about not getting into UMass, but luckily, CSUN is one of the top 10 schools in the program because everyone wants to come to LA and CSULA is not only in a crappy neighborhood, but they only accept kids for the year, while CSUN does semester. I think nearly everyone (if not everyone) my year got “accepted” for their first choice schools. UMass here I come! I also got accepted into the group that got to pay in-state California tuition, which meant I was paying less then kids at UMass paid for the same school. Score! The biggest expense I had that semester was living in a dorm and paying for the food, but for one semester, I think I can afford it. One semester won’t kill me.
The experience was fantastic! There were some kids on the program from Hawaii who had never seen snow before and while I had, I had never seen it fall from the sky. It snowed super early that semester, like the week before Halloween, which apparently is really early, but I loved it, mainly because I knew I was leaving in December and not coming back. I lived in one of the quiet dorms and enjoyed it. I got along with my roommate for the most part. As I said when I left, it could have been worse. I didn’t work for the first time in nearly 3 years. I helped out at the college radio station and read the news on Friday mornings with another Californian who read the sports (though he was a perm student, I thought it was still funny) because while I worked for a huge commercial station back in LA, there was no way I would ever make it on-air or really wanted too. And what else is college for but trying new things you could never do otherwise? I met a guy and “hung out” for a few weeks until I came back to California and it kind of fizzled and I didn’t care too much. I walked around the campus in the snow a lot. I would take the free bus into town and hang out at Wal-Mart and the $4 movie theater. I experienced cold weather I have never felt before and my eyes would start to water and I wasn’t crying. And after finals I came back to California and jumped back into my old life.
Moral: I am really glad I did this “study abroad” instead of one actually overseas. I wouldn’t have wanted to waste my time in a foreign country being stuck in class. The following summer I did my own grand tour of Europe and didn’t have to waste a minute in class. And isn’t experiencing a culture and life outside what you normally experience the point of study abroad? I’d say I achieved that. And I didn’t even need my passport! If your school is part of this program, I would highly recommend it!
*Sorry, I have no pictures. This was 2002 and I still used a film camera at this point. And actually, I didn’t take too many pictures while I was there either*