Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Why I Regret Not Having Studied Abroad

The NYT pieces together some recognizable vignettes:

The degree of rigor varies a lot. Some students bring back a semester of easy A’s. Others, especially those enrolled in foreign universities, work like dogs and still get C’s. In a Spanish university (not to be confused with a classroom of Americans in Spain), professors commonly fail half the class, Mr. Good says. “Students are often dismayed getting a B or C or D when they expected an A”. . . .

Alexandria Hollett's total immersion at the University of Bologna sounds more like “Survivor” than study abroad. Students stay in a pensione for orientation before the first challenge: Find a place to live. “Basically, what we had to do is walk up and down the streets of Bologna and rip flyers off the wall of Italian students advertising for roommates,” she says. “It was a really stressful experience.”

At registration, classes she had planned on weren’t offered, so she had to find other courses to count toward her triple major in English, Italian and Spanish (in Europe especially, professors switch what they’re teaching at the last minute). Lectures lasted an hour and a half (the American standard: 50 minutes). Professors talked at students (no raising hands) and answered cellphones in class. One talked to a caller for 20 minutes, she says.

The oral exam at semester’s end was “intense.” “The teacher would say, ‘Tell me something profound that is worth my time,’” Ms. Hollett recalls. . . .

Being in a place a dozen time zones away, where Internet service and cellphones are unreliable, provides one of the first chances for true and prolonged independence.

Zena Bibler calls her semester in Buenos Aires “equal parts terrible and awesome”. . . .

She got around on buses that were routinely rerouted by political demonstrations (or a driver’s whim).