Bella Loxtercamp – Opinion Columnist
I’ve known that I wanted to study abroad since I was a freshman in high school. When I first visited Gustavus, I met with Bryan Messerly from the Study Abroad Office, and he informed me of different programs available. I left that meeting walking on air with a resolve to schedule an advising meeting the first day on campus. It didn’t quite play out like that.
The first weekend was extremely busy with orientation events, so I decided to push it back to the following week. I wanted to go to the Study Abroad Office to schedule the meeting, so I asked around to figure out where it was. Over the next week, I was sent on a wild goose chase. Nobody I asked, students or faculty, knew where the Study Abroad Office was.
As a First-year, I had no idea what the different buildings were, so when someone told me it was in Anderson, I didn’t doubt them; I went to Anderson. The Academic Support Center (ASC) sent me to the administration building. All that was there was the Registrar’s office. They sent me to the International Center (IC), which I visited after class the next day. I entered on the side where the residents live and explored the creepy, dark basement to see if it was similar to Campus Safety. It was not.
After leaving, I checked the campus map, and it wasn’t even listed. The website said it was in the CICE–was that the same as the CIE? I checked the Dive. It was not. I double-checked all the offices in the Campus Center to see if I had just missed it the first time. I had not. At the beginning of my search, someone at the information desk had questioned whether it was even in existence. I was beginning to wonder that myself. Finally, ages later, I decided to go back to the IC, this time walking around the building, and lo and behold, I found a sign welcoming me to the CICE.
While this wild goose chase was a great way to explore campus and orient myself, why was it so difficult to find this office? There’s a chance that I just caught a case of the Confused and Lost First-Year, but why didn’t anyone know where it was, or if it even existed? I have been looking forward to studying abroad since I was in middle school. I’ve been saving money for it, using it to guide my decision for which college to attend. That the office is shoved at the far end of campus and not in the campus center is perplexing, but the fact that so many people are unaware of its existence is mind-blowing.
I interviewed Kendall Harvey, class of 2022, worker in the study abroad office, about her frustrations with the program. Her main frustrations are that not many students know it’s up and running. COVID has shrunk it. “People want to travel post-covid, but they won’t,” Kendall said.
A lot of people are concerned about catching something or bringing something back. People are hyper-aware of their surroundings. A cough doesn’t mean someone has a tickle in their throat anymore, it means they could have COVID. Fear is a powerful motivator and has kept many people from traveling when COVID wasn’t canceling everything. It canceled Gustavus’s programs last year and given that most people study abroad while upperclassmen, many who studied abroad graduated. There were six workers last year, four of which were seniors, and now there are two seniors. Being a worker means advising students on possible programs and answering general questions. When I visited Kendall, she was excellent in informing me about programs and helping me plan next steps.
College is one of the best times to travel. You aren’t tied down by a job, loan payments, or a family–in other words, you’re in limbo between adulthood and youth. With study abroad, you have the support of an entire institution (sometimes two, depending on the program you select). They assist you with housing, finances, and emotional support. Gustavus has a wide range of programs, from the shorter J-term experience to the semester-long programs.
There are faculty-led programs, exchange programs, and provider programs, where you study at an institution abroad. Each one will offer a different experience, and each one will be life-changing. “You can learn a lot about yourself,” said Harvey. Studying abroad exposes one to new cultures, difficult challenges, and amazing new experiences.
Common worries I’ve heard are that it’ll be too expensive or that it won’t work with their schedule. Kendall advises that ”If you’re debating [study abroad], go to the office. Come talk to one of us.” Depending on the program, study away can definitely be expensive–or it could end up being cheaper than a semester at Gustavus. There are also many scholarships available–from the college and the community. As for extra schooling, while study abroad can be tricky to fit in, there are so many programs available.
Early advising is key. Talk to your advisor to see which year or semester will work best to study away, and then pick programs available during that time. The earlier you start planning to study abroad the better–First-years, this includes you. If you want to study abroad, schedule an appointment ASAP. The more information you get and the earlier you begin, the better experience you’ll have.
There are valid reasons people don’t study away, such as family commitments or health concerns, but fear, cost, and timing should not dictate travel. What’s the harm in at least getting more information? Schedule an appointment, pick up some brochures, follow @gustavusinternational on Instagram, where you can see what current Gusties abroad are up to.
Study abroad is an amazing opportunity and in my opinion, just as important as joining clubs and organizations or doing an internship. There’s so much out there–get in touch with your wanderlust and go explore it.