Like many other undergrads, I’ve always dreamed of studying abroad. More than half of each graduating class at Stanford takes advantage of the Bing Overseas Study Program at some point during their time here. However, relocating to a different part of the world for a full 10 weeks (or more) is by no means an easy decision. As I have yet to study abroad myself, I talked to Caroline Dunn ’20, who decided not to study abroad, and her friend, Valerie Rincon ’20, who spent this past fall quarter in Florence, to gather some pros and cons of the experience.
Undeniably, studying abroad will force you out of your comfort zone. It’s a scheduled escape from the so-called “Stanford Bubble,” and a unique opportunity to experience a different part of the world with a mentality unrecognizable from the tech-focused Silicon Valley culture. Living in a different country for an extended period of time is incomparable to any week-long vacation. You’ll learn your way around your new home and become immersed in the culture that surrounds you on a day-to-day basis. Studying abroad is also the ideal time to explore courses outside your major and typical interests. For instance, in Florence, Valerie studied Art History for the first time, while surrounded by some of the world’s most celebrated art. Each study abroad program offers something extremely distinct from any other program found on campus. Just as Florence is the ideal backdrop for studying Art History, the coral reefs and rain forests in Australia are the perfect place to study ecology and environmental sciences.
In every Stanford study abroad program except for Cape Town and Oxford, you have the opportunity to live with a host family for the duration of the quarter. Living in a home-stay will ensure that you fully experience the genuine, unadulterated culture of wherever you are living. Your host family will also likely cook more delicious and authentic food than any restaurant. Valerie’s host family made the best food she had in Florence, and when she traveled she would always try to schedule her arrival times so that she made it in time for dinner. The ability to travel to other neighboring countries is another huge benefit of studying abroad. Especially If you choose a program based in Europe, you’ll be able to visit neighboring countries typically by taking a very short flight or train.
Despite all the opportunities that studying abroad presents, there are definitely a couple drawbacks to think about while finalizing plans. While you’re away, campus life will continue as usual without you, and, obviously you will miss your friends and whatever’s happening back at Stanford. Like any kind of change, adjusting to a completely foreign place can be difficult. It’s unlikely that you will love every moment while studying abroad, but remembering that each experience is part of this unique adventure will help you make the most of your time away from Stanford.
Studying abroad will also come with the challenge of different time zones. If you are planning on participating in a job recruitment cycle or have any commitments with inflexible timelines, a drastic time difference could seriously interfere with responsibilities back home. However, with enough advanced planning, most conflicts can usually be avoided.
A last possible complication to consider is “taking a quarter off” from your normal track of classes. Although taking classes unrelated to your major while studying abroad exposes you to unexplored interests, it can interfere with your current academic trajectory. Before making final decisions, it’s helpful to make sure a quarter away from campus won’t prevent you from taking advantage of any classes that you want or need to take.
Despite potential complications, studying abroad seems like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to do something entirely different than what Stanford typically offers and explore unfamiliar topics and places. With all of the different possible programs, studying abroad seems like a rewarding and unmissable chance to me.
Contact Elizabeth Dun at eldunn14 ‘at’ stanford.edu.