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Scared to Leave Your School Behind?
Though the number of college students spending a semester abroad is rapidly increasing, many students still approach the subject with trepidation.
They feel too deeply connected to their school to leave; they have sports teams, organizations, teachers, and friends that will all miss them dearly. More than that, the idea of living in a new place can be scary. Not being able to speak the same language as the majority of people you live near is a bizarre circumstance to be in. However, don't rule it out yet. Caroline Thomas may be able to show you why going abroad is a great idea, regardless of your hesitation.
Caroline is a junior at Bates College; she plays for the lacrosse team and is a double major in history and economics. Because Bates is a smaller school, she has amassed a great number of friends and cannot walk across her campus without seeing a few people that she knows. "Bates only has around 2,000 students," Thomas comments. "Even though that may sound a like a pretty big number, the small size of the Bates campus helps to keep you in contact with people even if you aren't in a class or on a team together anymore."
However, the small campus eventually began to feel a little bit too small, and Caroline wanted to see something new. "I went to boarding school before coming to college, and I lived in Rhode Island for seven years before that, so I feel like I've done the rural New England thing to death."
As a dual citizen (England being her previous residence), Caroline is no stranger to traveling. However, she strongly distinguishes between living and visiting a foreign place. "When you're visiting a place, you tend to tolerate cultural differences instead of actually trying to fit in to the new place. I wanted to go somewhere different and learn about what it was like to live in a completely different place."
As many students do, Caroline chose to go to Florence, Italy. While collaborating with a friend, she signed up through Syracuse's study abroad program in February of her sophomore year to apply to go abroad the fall of her junior year. "I was actually surprised by how easy the application process was," Thomas remembers, "I heard back in April and was all set to go with Syracuse."
However, she notes, "Dealing with Bates was a bit more tricky."
Caroline spent the next two months organizing her trip in accordance with Bates' study abroad policies. She picked her classes and determined how credits would transfer to her different requirements back at school. Additionally, she had to amend her tuition for the semester because, obviously, she didn't need to pay full tuition if she wasn't going to be on campus. "Even though there was a lot to do, the school actually helped a lot. I'm glad I'm riding the recent wave of studying abroad instead of starting it like they did ten or fifteen years ago."
Once she arrived, it was everything that she could have asked for. Syracuse has a set of buildings specifically dedicated to their study abroad program, including a cafe, student store, and fully equipped classrooms. She and one other girl, a friend from high school, did a home-stay with a woman that lived only five minutes walking away from the Syracuse student center. "I was kind of intimidated by her at first because she spoke no English and I spoke no Italian. But it became clear really quickly that she was a really sweet lady. I started calling her my 'Italian Mommy' two weeks into our stay there."
Caroline was also struck by the wealth of art and culture that she found in Florence. "I've been to New York City, and the MET can eat its heart out. I'm a five-minute walk from the Duomo, one of the most impressive and attractive cathedrals in the world. I've been to see Michelangelo's David three times, and I'll probably go a few more times before I leave." The experience was that much sweeter because all Syracuse students got free passes to skip lines and avoid paying admission to all of the major museums in Florence.
Caroline took two art history classes on Renaissance art and architecture. Addititionally, she took a class on the history of the de Medici family, whose palace is in Florence, and, of course, an Italian language class. "The classes were only difficult because I was so hindered by my lack of Italian. But honestly, after a few weeks, I started to understand the little catchphrases that the teachers were saying and could talk with shop owners, which was really cool."
Not to mention that she got to do some traveling: "I went to France, Germany, Prague, Switzerland, and Spain. Jo [my roommate] and I got a Eurail pass and just hopped on the train almost every weekend to travel to some new place. I've never had so much fun traveling around in my life."
In fact, Caroline often found herself surrounded by other students on her program who were sharing in her experience of traveling the world alone for the first time. "Even though it ruined the affect a little bit, it was good to see some familiar faces in the foreign cities that we visited. I know that they're safe, but it's hard to feel completely safe when you're not home."
Even so, Thomas was elated with her whole experience. "I wouldn't have changed anything about the trip. It was the perfect. I felt so integrated with the community; I knew the local baker, had a favorite gelato place, had a shopping routine down pat, and made so many friends." Caroline did leave a lot behind at Bates, but she'll make up for it by returning with new friends, new stories, and a better understanding of a new culture.
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