By Clara Spars
I’ve been on a number of study abroad programs throughout my life and something that I’ve always been interested in is the consistent structure of group dynamics. This quarter is the first time I am participating in a college term abroad (as opposed to a high school scholarship or summer program), and in conversing with my friends in other programs, I’ve found a new set of characteristics that seem to emerge in participants as soon as the plane hits foreign ground.
1. The ones who want to facilitate a really cohesive group dynamic
There’s always that one person who assigns themselves the responsibility of ensuring that everyone gets along and maintains really close contact all throughout the program. They send regular messages to a group chat they’ve created and named something alliterated like “Berlin Buddies” or “Madrid Menaces” with messages like “Hey guys, anyone wanna go to [blank] today?” to which, sadly, no one tends to reply. We all really appreciate the friendly energy that these individuals have to share.
It is usually impossible to try to corral all 30 college kids together for a single plan. It seems to work the first week, while people are still overridden with a wave of FOMO that powers them through a trip to the bar at midnight the day they arrive, but as soon as people catch onto the fact that (a) not everyone on the program has to be best friends, and (b) even if everyone were to be best friends, there are hardly any bars, clubs or restaurants that are big enough to accommodate 30 rowdy Americans, then the energy sort of fizzles out. I personally enjoy getting to know as many people I can through one-on-ones and small groups but have an immense amount of respect for those who have the patience and will to organize group-wide excursions. After all, it’s people like that who make the world go round — when people answer their texts.
2. The ones who stick to their “homies”
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who stick closely to the friends that they already knew coming into the program. Whether they’ve applied to the same program in the same country, or they’ve planned the timing so that they spend every weekend traveling to see their friends (which only really happens if the programs are in Europe), they make the most of their time abroad by spending it with the people they are already close to.
3. The ones who want to see everything and do everything and take selfies with it all
There are always more than a few students who, given the incredible opportunity they have to be abroad, feel an immense pressure to visit every touristy location, every famous landmark, eat every traditional dish and take an entire camera roll’s worth of photos while doing so. These individuals tend to be meticulously organized, with color-coded calendars for all their plans. The fruits of their labor emerge in their cleverly-captioned Instagram posts featuring puns about whatever landmark they are seen posing with.
4. The ones who’ve seen it all before
Then, there are the kids who’ve already been to the country that they are visiting — in some cases multiple times. They’re known to say things like “Oh, you should totally check out this little place that’s tucked away behind this obscure building, they have the best tapas in all of Spain.” They’re also usually the type to frequently turn down plans because they’ve already been with their [insert family member, lover, etc], “but you should totally go, you’d love it.”
5. The ones who push really, really hard for the language pledge
If you’re in a program with a language pledge, you’re bound to have at least one kid who would rather resort to animated hand signals than to speak in English and break their vow to the pledge gods. Don’t get me wrong, we need people to stick with the commitment and hold us accountable — we sign up for these programs in order to learn and practice as much as we can! However, I will say that in my experience, there are certain points where my brain shuts off and I need to throw out a few English phrases to get me through a given situation, especially while surrounded by a bunch of fellow clueless American friends full of too much jamón and tipsy on sangria.
6. The ones who can’t stop talking about when they get back to Stanford
Die-hard Stanford fans exist. There are students with close-knit groups of best friends à la Cath in College who seem to have had a smile plastered onto their face from Admit Weekend all the way through their most recent final exam. These are the people who speak nonstop about how much they can’t wait to get back to campus and finally be able to pregame for frat parties with Tricia and Joey and Jake, and “oh, I can’t wait for you to meet them,” and “wow, you’ll love them,” and “ahh, I can’t wait for us all to hang out back on campus.”
7. The ones who went abroad to escape Stanford
Then, there are the students who desperately needed to get away from Stanford and saw a quarter abroad as the perfect opportunity to do so. Whether trying to avoid an ex or tired of the constant academic pressure, these people will hold onto every moment they have away from campus as though their life depends on it.
8. The ones who just wanna find a _________ lover
A hot Spanish boy, a friendly German lad, a witty lady from Hong Kong… There are always going to be those individuals who go out to clubs and bars and cafés ready to meet the significant other that they were promised from all the rom-coms they watched while growing up. I’m still working on locating mine.
Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.