5-C Students Share Experiences Studying Abroad

After the excitement of freshman year and the new-found independence of college life wears off, many students ask how they can continue their search for that sense of personal growth and fulfillment that one gains from conquering a new environment. Here at the Claremont Colleges, studying abroad is not only one of the most highly anticipated undergrad experiences, but is effusively encouraged by the schools. Juan Flores CMC ’10 aptly explains the importance of studying abroad, saying “you learn a lot about yourself when you are thrown into the unknown.” All of the returning study abroad students I’ve talked to agree that this unknown presents a multitude of challenges, but also a refreshing and new-found appreciation for yourself and the world around you.While abroad, you are still required to fulfill the requirements of your major, but the real purpose is to enrich your knowledge with a deeper, more personal understanding. This does not necessarily come about academically.Jennie Renn PI ’10 studied in Oaxaca, Mexico as a Chicano Studies major. In Oaxaca, she lived with a mother and her three grown children, and became close to her host mother in particular. When she wasn’t going to concerts, exhibits and events in local cafés, Renn would spend her time doing everyday things like going to the market or attending birthday parties for her host family’s friends. This relationship to the family provided insight into Mexican culture of which lectures and textbooks could only give a vague semblance.Wesley Ducey HMC ’10 studied in Brisbane, Australia at the University of Queensland. He took courses in engineering and environmental studies, and had the opportunity to take in the environment of Australia itself. He was able to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, camp in the outback and even travel to northern Queensland with an environmental studies class. Ducey explains, “studying abroad gives you an interesting global perspective—academically, socially as well as politically.”As a music major, Flores was also able to dive into a new level of exposure to his academic focus while abroad in Vienna, Austria. Flores had the opportunity to attend weekly opera and orchestra concerts, which usually cost 100 dollars a ticket, for only five euros.Academic differences between nations can sometimes cause additional challenges while abroad. Ducey explains the grading system in Australia is much different than that of the United States. Much more responsibility is placed on the student to pace his or her learning because there are little to no assignments, and the final is worth 60 percent of your grade.Dani Carrillo PO ’10 spent her semester in Paris. Upon arriving, Carrillo found she would essentialy be on break from school for a month due to a massive strike. Instead of packing up and going home, she was able to gain a unique look into student activism in France. During this time, she attended informal poetry readings and spent hours on end in the Louvre, taking in the pulse of every day life in Paris.Ingrained cultural differences also call for personal change in behavior while abroad. “The cultural differences [in Vienna] were quite obvious right from the get-go,” Flores recalls. “We were instructed not to smile at strangers unless we were sexually interested in them, and were told that staring at people is apparently an Austrian pastime.”Additionally, when you are immersed in a new language, simple things such as going to the grocery store or post office are difficult at first because you are forced to speak the language. “Even those proficient in a language find that they take a hard hit to their confidence in language skills,” Carrillo said. “Then it becomes exciting because you see that there is so much more to learn.” In her case, she found that some Parisians were offended by those who do not speak their language perfectly—but not all of them. “[The French] actually find it endearing when you attempt to speak their language, and you should not feel like a fool because no one speaks perfectly,” she said.Upon their return, students have a variety of reactions to being back at the Claremont Colleges. After returning from Vienna, Flores said he “misses the ‘strange’ world – relative to abroad, everything at CMC feels so mundane.” Ducey felt “excited to get back into routine and normal college life” after spending his spring in Brisbane. All agree, however, that if you have any inclination to study abroad, do it.“Dismiss your schedule and be more creative with your daily routine. Stroll to class as opposed to quickly taking public transportation because you’ll be skipping over so much of the city,” Carrillo said. “Let yourself go, and see what comes of it.”

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