During the 2013–14 school year (regular and summer terms), 915 students studied abroad. That’s 915 out of the 5,453 students attending Yale College. Most undergraduates choose to study abroad during the summer — only 90 students applied to study abroad this term. So I understand the bewilderment that people feel when they hear that I took my entire junior year to study abroad. Yet what I don’t understand is why more students don’t take advantage of the amazing study abroad opportunities out there.
If Yale has taught me anything, it’s that the world is my oyster. More than anything, Yale has surrounded me with peers and faculty members with interesting and different perspectives from which to learn and grow. I have learned more during walks from class, meals in dining halls and late night chats with friends than I have anywhere else on Yale’s campus. The people I’ve met at Yale are not the people I grew up with. The people here have seen worlds very different from mine and are allowing me a glance. Experiencing this within the “Yale bubble” made me wonder what else this world had to offer me. Hence began the saga that is my junior year.
There is no greater teacher than experience. You can take a class on economic inequality or you can visit a Brazilian favela, a mere five-minute walk away from a luxury mall. You can major in environmental science, or you can snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef and learn how global warming and water pollution are destroying the natural habitat. You can read an article that your friend posted on Facebook about caste systems in India, or you can stay up late at night while your host sister tells you that she and her boyfriend of five years recently broke up because his family could not accept that she is Dalit and he is Brahmin. You can get trapped in a mosh pit at Spring Fling on Old Campus or get lost in a crowd during Sao Paolo’s carnival. You can attend a Master’s Tea with a leading commentator on globalization or you can sit in a boardroom with developers for Indian Prime Minister Modi’s plan for 100 smart-cities and critique the Westernization of the world.
When you are on your way to visit Robben Island to walk into the prison where the late Nelson Mandela spent over 20 years of his life, you will not be thinking about how you are missing out on Jessie J or about how your friends posted way too many awesome pictures from sorority crush. You will be thinking about how blessed you are to be learning in such a hands-on, experiential way and contemplating why you didn’t do this sooner.
Your friends will, god willing, be there after your time away. (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram will ensure that you don’t miss a beat.) That awesome lecture will be offered next year. Your extracurriculars will be there with open arms upon your return. Steppin’ Out will have another amazing spring jam (shameless plug, I know). And I promise that Toads will not magically become the hot spot while you’re gone.
Moral of the rant: Yale will not vanish into thin air if you choose to study abroad for a semester (or two). The best cure for the fear of missing out is to do something 10 times more exciting. Studying abroad was the best decision I could have ever made. I took classes, met people, saw places and experienced things that I could have only read about in New Haven.
This is not to diminish the beauty and power that Yale holds as a world-class University. We are at an institution with access to amazing resources, peers and professors, and that fact is alluring enough to keep many of us here in Connecticut. But when you understand that there is an entire world out there waiting for you to explore, you will understand why my junior abroad was a near necessity rather than an option.
Brea Baker is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .