Studying abroad is an unforgettable experience for many Sarah Lawrence students. The chance to experience a new environment and take courses that are not offered at SLC is enticing, particularly because we are a relatively insulated community.
There are many pros and cons to studying in a new environment. My personal experience was very positive. I went to Glasgow in Scotland at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA). Originally, I enrolled just for a semester but I ended up extending it to the whole year. My program was not through SLC; instead, I studied at Acardia University, on the recommendation of the International Programs office.
The new social scene that students become exposed to while studying abroad is generally considered as one of the best parts of the experience. Niyonta Chowdhurry (‘15) fully took advantage of her new setting while in Bristol. “I loved it socially,” Chowdurry said, “Everyone there was really friendly, I made a lot of friends, and I loved the clubs there.”
Alexandra Martone (‘15) participated in the year-long Florence program during her junior year, and she also remembers the friends she made fondly. “Some of the most interesting people and some of the friends I’ve made there are some of the best friends I’ve ever had,” she said.
Adjusting to new faces was, to me, the most challenging part of studying abroad. Being used to my friends at SLC, it was at times intimidating to be thrown into a new environment without my traditional pillars around for emotional support.
Sam Marques (‘14) had the same difficulty as me when he was in a non-SLC affiliated program in Denmark: “The biggest disadvantage for me was that I was the only SLC student in the program. Being surrounded by SLC kids for two and a half years, you get used to that kind of ‘Sarah Lawrence energy,’ and it was harder for me to function socially.”
Away from the burdens of establishing a new social life, being able to take courses or enroll in a program that SLC does not offer was the most compelling aspect of going abroad. I had the chance to almost entirely devote myself to photography, which was not possible at SLC. I was completely immersed in what I wanted to study at the GSA without being distracted by other course material.
Similarly, Martone had the chance to study art restoration while in Florence, a subject that is not offered on SLC’s main campus. “It was really wonderful that our school offers a restoration program,” she said. “There’s not a lot of programs out there for conservation out there.”
For a lot of students, going abroad offers the opportunity to go to another country where they are not fluent in the native language. To them, this can be viewed both as a pro and a con. Martone was only beginning to learn Italian when she went to Florence. Though she listed learning a new language as one of the pros, she also expressed it was, at times, stressful to have to learn in an accelerated manner.
“I got to learn a new language, which is great...but it’s hard to move to a country where you don’t know the language. It’s very stressful to do your studies and everything else while making yourself fit into a culture,” she said.
While I was in Scotland, I never had to learn a new language, though understanding a Glaswegian accent is at times almost just as challenging. Being immersed in a new environment, while at times difficult, it is also refreshing. For me, the greatest thing about living in Glasgow for a year was being able to experience a city that was the artistic and cultural hub for Scotland. I loved being able to go to several art galleries (most of them free or at least discounted because I was an art student), being able to go out to some of the best clubs in the UK, and having the chance to mingle with artistically like-minded people.
For every new experience, there are risks. You have to be able to take the good with the bad. But for most, the pros tend to outweigh the cons. “I loved all the facilities around the campus and there were shops within walking distance. It was a small but happening community,” said Chowdurry. “As for downsides, there weren’t really any besides the weather during the fall and winter months.”
To everyone thinking of studying abroad, I recommend it very strongly; it is fun, it is challenging, you meet a lot of great people in a new city. I can guarantee that you will get something out of it that SLC is unable to offer. Martone said it well: “It was the best year of my life.”
by Hugh Thornhill '14