Studying abroad opens eyes to cultures, languages

Laura Schocker

By Laura SchockerThe Daily NorthwesternAs members of the Class of 2011 are beginning to gather their earthly possessions, preparing for a day of heaving boxes up the stairs to a fourth floor dorm (maybe that was just me?), few are probably ready to start preparing to leave campus again for study abroad.But the first year at Northwestern is prime time to get ready for that next step towards a global education, this time leaving behind 90 percent of your belongings in exchange for two overstuffed suitcases that teeter on the edge of the international aviation weight limit (just me again?).”We see study abroad first and foremost as an extension of the academic experience at Northwestern,” says Bernhard Streitwieser, associate director of the study abroad office. And to achieve this extension, he suggests that students begin preparing as early as their freshman year to attend an information session, research a country, take the proper preparatory courses and prepare a complete and timely application. “We want to make sure that (students) will stay on track and avoid surprises,” Streitwieser said. Study Abroad 101 Information sessions are held Tuesdays at 5:15 p.m. and Fridays at 2:15 p.m., year-round.Last year, the most popular destinations included Spain, England, France, and China, Streitwieser said, with the most common majors being economics, political science, communications, and journalism. But with programs on six continents that range from only the summer to a quarter or a full year, there is a study abroad track to suit almost any Northwestern student, regardless of major.New students will especially benefit from the Office of International Program Development, established in 2000 in part to address students who felt like study abroad wouldn’t traditionally fit with their course of study, such as those in medicine and engineering.”We try to identify needs for students who may not have relevant programs,” says Devora Grynspan, director of the Office of International Program Development. “This is for a different type of student.”Programs through this department include summers in China and Mexico and a spring quarter in South Africa for public health minors, among others.”After being in South Africa, I definitely want to work with public health,” said Communication senior Laura Howard, who spent last spring quarter in the country. “I’m almost 100 percent sure I’ll be going back.”Weinberg junior Gene Schwartz, who traveled in the same group as Howard, said he agreed.”It’s extremely important to be able to connect with different people,” Schwartz said. “In the end, it was an amazing experience.”For others, study abroad is a chance to truly master a foreign language.”It turns your whole world around. You get lost and then you have to figure it out,” said Ann Clark, a Medill senior who spent Fall Quarter 2006 in Seville, Spain, living with a host family.While Clark felt one quarter was the perfect amount of time, other NU students opt for an entire year abroad.”You use the first quarter just to get used to everything,” says Weinberg senior Rachael Kim, who spent her junior year at the London School of Economics. For Kim, the remainder of the year was about making long-term friendships and traveling.”I had the best year of my life,” Kim said, adding that the experience altered the way she looks at life in general. “It’s easy for a lot of students to focus on their own lives and not be aware of what’s happening globally.”Still deciding between a full year versus a quarter? Take off winter and spring, like I did. It puts those AP credits to good use.Reach Laura Schocker at [email protected]