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Seniors offer their insight on the study abroad experience

December 1, 2023

Courtesy Alondra Romero '24
BEARS IN THE WILD: Alondra Romero '24 explores her academic interests and the cultural scene within the city of Buenos Aires through the Institute for Study Abroad-Butler Psychology and Neuroscience program.

The process for studying abroad during the 2024-25 academic year is officially underway. With the application opening just after winter break, now is the time for students to think about where they want to study.

Applying to study abroad consists of two steps: an Office of Off-Campus Study (OCS) application, as well as an application to the program a student wants to participate in. Students were assigned a term in which they are allowed to study abroad through registration, although they are allowed to petition to study abroad in a different semester.

There are two parts to the OCS portion: The first is an online application and the second is a course exercise form, which requires a faculty signature from the student’s intended major or minor departments. The online application opens on January 22. For students applying to a program on the list of options approved by the College and provided by the OCS, the application is due February 16.

Today is the application deadline for those wishing to study abroad during a term different from their assigned one. For students who want to partake in a program that is not on the list, they must meet with Director of Off-Campus Study and International Programs Christine Wintersteen by January 31 and submit their application two weeks earlier.

With many students seeking advice on the application process, as well as abroad opportunities  as a whole, the Orient spoke to five seniors about their experiences.

In terms of the application process, one of the most consistent pieces of advice was to think about finances.

Ebe Figueroa ’24 studied in Kenya through the School for Field Studies. For students on financial aid, she recommended meeting with a financial aid officer to figure out what is and is not included in their package.

“In my case, I knew I had a lot of vaccines and medical stuff I had to get taken care of before I went abroad. Initially, that wasn’t included in my aid package, but once we talked about it, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, we should include this,’” Figueroa said. “So don’t be afraid to ask. And then also don’t be afraid to ask the program itself about additional expenses.”

Dov McGuire-Berk ’24, who studied in Salamanca, Spain, echoed Figueroa’s sentiments and also suggested students look at expenses in the area in which they will be studying.

“I feel like the cost of living there would have been really helpful to know before so you can prepare financially. Because it’s expensive, especially if you’re going to get your own place,” McGuire-Berk said.

Another key part of the process is deciding where to go. Some students choose to study somewhere they can build upon their studies at Bowdoin and get credits for their major, while others choose to do something totally different.

For example, David Ma ’24 studied in Kyoto, Japan with the Associated Kyoto Program. While he is a math and physics double major, the Kyoto program was primarily for studying Japanese.

“We had Japanese class every day in the morning and then two elective classes. And the elective classes that I had were a history of cinema class on post-war Japan and then a linguistics class for Japanese. So very different from what I study at school,” Ma said.

Alondra Romero ’24, on the other hand, prioritized finding a program that aligned with her on-campus studies. She is a Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies and psychology double major who studied in Buenos Aires last year through the Institute for Study Abroad-Butler Psychology and Neuroscience program. Although the program was the only one she found that combined her interests, she wanted to study in Buenos Aires because of the city itself.–

“In Buenos Aires, there’s so much happening, which was really special for me because I’m from a city. And I really like Brunswick because the nature’s beautiful, but I feel like I was very much craving a social environment,” Romero said. “There were just so many rich cultural events that were happening. And there were so many options to choose from every night and every day, which was really cool.”

In choosing a location, the language spoken there is a key factor to consider. McGuire-Berk and Katie Draeger ’24 agreed that fully immersing yourself in a language is the best way to improve your skills, regardless of whether you are majoring in that language or not.

One way to even further immerse yourself in a language is to stay with a host family, which Ma particularly loved in his experience.

“My host family has had a homestay student [each year] for sixteen years I think—so since their kid was really small. So they knew what they were doing, and they were really nice,” Ma said. “It was a really positive experience just to live with somebody. And that way you’re not just a study abroad student, but you actually feel like you’re integrated into that society more or less for a small stint of time.”

As for advice for students once they arrive in their location, all five seniors emphasized exploring the area and meeting as many people as possible.

“I think the best piece of advice I have is to go outside and find friends…. It’s so easy to just go outside and talk to people. But it’s so hard, especially if you don’t know the language. But if you can find people who are also in that same predicament, it’s a lot easier to go out in a group and then find commonality and then enjoy yourself,” Ma said.

With that said, Draeger, who studied abroad in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, highlighted the importance of taking time for yourself.

“My abroad experience was one that made me incredibly uncomfortable and incredibly exhausted in addition to being immensely fulfilled emotionally, socially and intellectually. So I think I would beat myself [up] if I didn’t go out on a certain Friday night and just decided to read in my room. Or I would get mad at myself if I slept in and missed breakfast with my host family. But I needed to do that,” she said. “Push yourself, but definitely don’t beat yourself up for the moments where you have to pull away for a second and just do something that feels normal to you.”

However, before deciding where you want to go, what program you want to apply for or whether you want to live with a host family, you need to decide whether you want to study abroad at all.

For those on the fence about whether to study abroad or not, all five seniors enjoyed their time abroad and emphasized that living in another country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people.

“I feel like it’s just a really great way to not have as much responsibility for just a little bit of time—and also just get off campus for a little bit,” McGuire-Berk said. “And also, I feel like if you feel like you’re going to be living in the U.S. for a long time, it would be really cool to get a new perspective on things.”

Draeger was initially unsure about whether she wanted to study abroad before ultimately deciding to go. While she is incredibly happy with her decision, she noted that many students who ended up choosing not to go were just as happy with their decision.

“I was a person who was incredibly on the fence about going abroad. I was very scared. I’m very attached to my place; I’m very attached to the people I’m with. I’m very anxious. And so going abroad was a really huge decision for me. And I know a lot of people who didn’t, and they felt equally as fulfilled as I do,” Draeger said.


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