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The Ultimate Homestay

Opinion | December 7, 2009

Study Abroad

I’m not going abroad. At Tufts, such a statement usually leads to questions of if I’m an engineer (absolutely not) or if I’m behind on credits (I could graduate next week if I wanted to) or just blank stares. I simply don’t want, or need, to go abroad. What’s fascinating is that this seems to throw most people here into a state of existential confusion. Upon admitting my decision, I’ve had friends recommend programs, professors offer brochures, and even my dean spent a good half-hour trying to persuade me otherwise. I mean, if you could, why wouldn’t you go abroad?

Up until recently, I always expected to apply for abroad programs for my junior spring. I spent the summer thoroughly researching my options (Shamans in Nepal? Cafés in the Netherlands? Yage in Peru?) before deciding that the grain-based opportunities of Prague suited me best. And let me tell you, I was pretty pumped. Spring 2010 was going to be the best three months of college. I even bought a guidebook and learned some Czech (Budu mít jiny pivo!).

Over time, however, I began to second-guess my plans. My parents, who are typically supportive of my more unusual academic decisions, posed a critical question: “What would you get abroad that Tufts can’t offer you?” At first, I was put-off and offered commonplace explanations: living and “learning” in a foreign place, connecting with the “global community,” escaping the “bubble of a liberal arts education.” But they persisted with their parental aloofness, recommending I really think about why I needed to go abroad now; if I could give them truthful, specific reasons they’d approve.

That threw me for a loop. Being a junior, everyone I knew (and I mean everyone) was either blissfully going abroad or bitterly lamenting their inability to. I just assumed that because I could, I would go abroad too. But therein lay my parents’ point: I had merely assumed I was to go abroad without ever discerning if it would be truly beneficial.

Though it’s certainly not a downfall, Tufts is an extremely internationally focused institution. As to be expected, an equally extreme number of Tufts kids study abroad. Tour guides and administrators flaunt wild statistics of the entire junior class vacating for a year. Yes, that exotic semester or two of international experience and debauchery is a staple of Tufts life. And though this isn’t a bad thing, it’s become an overwhelmingly expected aspect of college life.

I’m certainly not refuting some of the real benefits of living abroad. However, it seems absurd that most of this campus looks at me like a Medusa because I’m not going to be enjoying the splendors of grappa in Sienna next semester. Scusa mi, but I would argue that many never even question the necessity of an abroad semester to begin with. Sure, if you’re an IR major fluent in Arabic, I would say going off to Egypt to analyze its political economy is incredibly pertinent. But as a Philosophy and Environmental Studies major with absolutely no background in Czech, I don’t see how gallivanting around Bohemia is intellectually or academically productive. Insanely fun, but I don’t see any career development stemming from it.

But, one could ask, why not look at more appropriate abroad programs? I’ve considered many programs aside from Prague that would suit my interests, but even then, I still believe I can do more with my time by staying at Tufts. I only have so many semesters in good ol’ Medford, and, damnit, I kind of like it here. Yes, I could be jetting off to some obscure corner of the world next month, but instead I’ll be taking classes at SMFA, interning in downtown Boston, developing a Creative Writing minor, and taking up French. And that’s where I think the unique college experience lies, in the intellectual experimentation offered in the classroom. I may not be carousing in smoky bars with foreigners, but you can be sure as hell that I’ll be learning a whole lot.

Still, a part of me is sad to see most of my friends head off to what will surely be an amazing semester abroad; I can’t help but feeling that I’m missing out on the fun. However, Prague— and the entire world for that matter— will still be there in two years. College, on the other hand, will end. Considering the state of the economy and the, uh, qualifications I’ll be graduating with, I’m sure I’m going to have plenty of time post-graduation to explore the fun that the many wonders of the world have to offer. And when I do go abroad, I won’t have classes or transfer-of-credit to deal with either. Win-win.