A Second Look At Study Abroad – Deanna Segall

From “An Eph Abroad: Part 1”— “Study abroad is a wonderful experience, but let’s not kid ourselves that ‘study’ has much to do with it.”

The second I mentioned going abroad, the warnings came flooding in. A year later, I can still hear the countless cautions that I would never be able to find a study-abroad school as academically rigorous as Williams. And over a year later, I still insist that my priority is getting a good education, no matter what continent I’m on. So equipped with a multitude of warnings about the hiatus in my academic life, and sprinkled with the frequent “don’t get eaten by a shark,” I embarked on the 30+ hour trip to Sydney.

Of course every study abroad experience, and school for that matter, is different. But the warnings that I received were greatly exaggerated and even—dare I say it?—wrong. And to say that has no reflection on my love for Williams. Like anyone lucky enough to experience it, I am more than aware of the school’s academic prestige and the extraordinary nature of the Williams community; I am tremendously grateful to be a part of it. But the intensity and sheer number of these warnings speak to a delusion I’ve encountered at Williams.

From the moment I arrived at the University of Sydney, I have been learning, yes outside the classroom, but also most definitely within. I enrolled in classes based on my interest in them. None are particularly advanced, but I am working hard. I’ve had my share of late-(all)-nighters, double-digit-pagers, and exam stress. Like at Williams, I’ve gotten some great grades and some less-than-desirable ones. The grades don’t matter for a Williams transcript, but they still do for my personal transcript.

I think that’s something powerful about the Williams student— Williams students want to learn for the sake of learning. But what’s worth remembering is—that doesn’t mean other students don’t.

My schedule here is such that for each class, I have a lecture and a tutorial (“tut”) or a smaller discussion seminar. Sure, some people skip lecture. Some people don’t talk in tuts. But I’ve had class discussions that have made me just as enlightened, nervous, and angry as those at Williams. Granted, I am attending a good university, big enough to attract a wide range of talent (and lack thereof). And yet, I’m still engaging in those endless heated debates carried on outside of the classroom.

In fact, because I’m from another country, these conversations become even more important. It turns out that others know and care more about the U.S. than I imagined. In each meeting of my world politics class, in which I am the only American, my professor’s daily question—“What are today’s current events in the world?”— might better be phrased as “What are today’s current events in the U.S.?” These perceptions force me to change my own deep-rooted perspectives of home. No matter how much I may pay to attend Williams, I couldn’t pay enough to gain such experiences without leaving.

This is not to say I don’t value or miss Williams. I have struggled greatly with being fully present here because a major part of me is at home, following my friends in my mind through their days in the Purple Bubble. But it’s called the Purple Bubble for a reason. And what I’ve learned abroad, academically and emotionally, has helped me burst it. My time abroad has demonstrated that it’s possible to learn a tremendous amount without the suffocating intensity that can engulf Williams students. It has shown me that while this intensity invites a uniquely deep connection with my peers—something I am craving more of—it is not necessarily lacking abroad. My semester abroad has taught me that there exist incredibly smart people outside of Williams, and some thoughtless ones within it.

It’s important to keep reminding ourselves to look through the sometimes distorting walls of the Purple Bubble, embodied in comments like the ones I heard. Although I received support for my decision, the attempts to hold me back reflect a pretention that is detrimental to a place as exceptional as Williams.

Ultimately, my time away from Williams has taught me to be a better student for Williams. No one ever warned me about that.

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