Tuesday, September the 22nd an info session on the study abroad program was held in the Modular Unit at Emmanuel College. It was organized by the Colleges of the Fenway GeoCenter whose office is now located at Simmons College. Students from all four years were present, each being in a different phase in the process. And what I mean by so saying is that, when asked by Emmanuel advisor at GeoCenter Diane Bissaro to speak a little bit about the respective planned destination and steps followed, answers varied from “ I’m going to Florence, Italy and I have already been accepted to the university there” to “ I’m not sure if I’ll ever study abroad, I’m just here to see how this works”.
Study Abroad. Isn’t studying a travel in the realms of wisdom in and of itself? Isn’t it enough to leave the comfort zone of our beds to go to that foreign land called a classroom (where sometimes x-es and y-s and expressions such as “k ¢ = m0 4p = 10- (Tim) A” do make us want to “ask for translation”? Why raise the “foreigness” of this situation to square power?
Because the fun part of being a student, – meeting people, trying new things, changing views, feeling empowered, feeling like you belong to something bigger,- all of that, is raised to square power too.
-“Studying abroad changes your life dramatically”, – said Laura when I asked how had the month spent in Oviedo Spain affected her.
This summer, Laura studied at the university that gets its name from the city whose pride it is. Universitad de Oviedo was founded in 1608 (yes, 401 years ago)and is one of the many institutions that GeoCenter partners with.
-“ They say that the college experience is one that changes your life. And it does to some extent…But studying abroad gave my life a much more powerful twist ”.
The 43 students that left the US to go to Spain this summer were accompanied by Emmanuel Spanish professor Jose Alvarez Jimenez Gijon, who, as Laura said, became their strength when they most needed it: when they missed their family. -“He was there to remind us that one month would soon change from present to memory, so it would be better for us to take advantage while we could”.
And as Laura described her Spanish experience, I realized that they didn’t ignore his advice. They enjoyed going to school in a campus whose architecture spoke of millennia of wisdom being built in a Pre-Roman style. It was tough because they didn’t hear a single English syllable but according to my interviewee, this fact added up to make the experience all the more exotic. She was convinced she had made the best choice by going to Oviedo and not Barcelona or Madrid, tourist attractions where everybody is able to communicate in the international language, the one spoken in the US.
Another thing that made Oviedo different from other major Spanish cities was that it didn’t allow you to get lost in the cyber-maze and spend unnecessary time on the web. Why? Well, most of the hosting families that partnered with GeoCity didn’t necessarily embrace our non-written law “Internet is the new Oxygen”, – most of them didn’t have access to it in their homes. (Don’t be scared, Internet- caffés were not few in town. They were there if you really had a need but you would think twice if you wanted to get on the web every 95 minutes because you thought of a facebook status that would make everybody check your page. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that anyways…) So less time in front of a computer, more in discovering Oviedo and other towns; more time spent meeting new people, that as Laura said, were so different and so similar at the same time to everybody she had known before. Oviedo’s café-bars were open until dawn…7 DAYS A WEEK. And Oviedo’s café-bars’ goers were… people worth meeting.
-“They were all so friendly, and so genuinely interested in what we were doing. They would get excited that people would come from outside Spain to experience the University of Oviedo and the town”. – Laura reminded smiling.
Another delightful memory she had was the taste of Spanish cuisine’s home-made food. And, while people kept moving quickly in between the tables of the Atrium Café where we were having our conversation, she did talk nostalgically about the lay-back lifestyle of the locals who would never consider being late for school or work as a good reason to miss a meal.
I asked her if she had any advice to give to others who wanted to discover the world through a study abroad program. Well, for all you out there who are planning to leave US territory sometime this school year, make sure to talk to the organizers of your trip so the trip plan doesn’t include infinite hours of waiting in transit airports. Also, you very likely don’t want to change planes more than two times before reaching your destination.
And finally what was the overall impact that Oviedo had made on her.
-“The world feels so much smaller now”- she said smiling, her eye sight being aimed just a little bit higher and so failing just slightly to meet mine as she was trying to materialize in words that feeling that had been with her since coming back from Spain. She said studying abroad made the world in general feel more accessible…and more real. According to her it’s only once you go and spend some time in another country that your awareness of other nations and their people becomes as solid as it should be. She said that before being abroad at least once, hearing about other countries is like watching a movie (most of the times it feels even more distant). You might watch international news on TV, and even get mentally involved by what you are watching but at the best you will be as involved as you are in a fictional story. When you go abroad, Laura said, you become fully aware of the outside world.
Laura now thinks that what happens in Spain, has much more closer implications in what happens to every other country than the inhabitants of these countries would think. And so does what happens in Greece, and in Japan and so on. Being aware of these implications makes her feel empowered. It makes her feel special too, since so few people really have that awareness.
So going back to my initial question “ Why study abroad? Why raise the foreigness to square power?”, Laura’s answer would be: “Because the world doesn’t seem so spread out anymore”. Maybe its through discovering foreign lands and cultures that “foreign” doesn’t feel foreign anymore.