It’s common wisdom among college graduates and seniors who think they know better that if you don’t study abroad, you’ll regret it. “Are you going to study abroad?” is a common question among Amherst sophomores and juniors. If the answer is yes, no one thinks twice. But if a student decides to stay at Amherst for both semesters, he’s consistently told that it’s the wrong decision, that he’ll regret losing an opportunity he’ll never have again. While studying abroad is certainly a fantastic opportunity, so is each of our semesters at Amherst.
Studying abroad is a wonderful opportunity for many people. But the decision to go abroad is a very personal one, and there’s often little critical assessment as to whether going abroad will benefit each individual student. Rather than give into peer pressure and the prevailing idea that going abroad is the right solution for everyone during college, a student should think about what specifically she wants to learn during her junior year. If students want to master a language through immersion, a semester or a year abroad is the perfect opportunity. If someone wants to engage with different communities, perhaps to better understand a different history or political organization, or do research in a different context, study abroad could be a transformative academic experience. If a student simply wants to escape the Amherst bubble, study abroad works too.
But we should realize that each semester at Amherst is also an opportunity filled with the potential for exciting new experiences. As cheesy as it may sound, Amherst becomes a new place every single year. For one thing, you’d be hard pressed to find an academic experience abroad that beats Amherst classes. With just four short years here, there’s no shortage of incredibly transformative classes you can take that you’ll never have access to again. Furthermore, the growing number of clubs, sports teams and opportunities allow us to make this campus a better place, cultivate meaningful friendships and embed ourselves deeper in the community we call home for four years.
Studying abroad during junior year is often described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is the highlight of anyone’s college experience. This view has some good points. After all, there’s huge value in getting a change of scenery, especially one so radical as an international exchange. You simply can’t replicate this kind opportunity for international learning and cultural exchange in an Amherst classroom — no matter how good our classes are. The general grind and stress on this campus can get incredibly tiring, and a bit of a break can bring things into perspective. Amherst financial aid can cover all or an incredibly high amount of an international travel opportunity that would otherwise be out of reach for many college students.
If traveling or living abroad is something you want to pursue, but you don’t think study abroad is right for you, ask the fellowship and career offices to learn about the myriad of opportunities available after graduation. Spending a gap year after college doing meaningful academic or volunteer work while traveling or living in another country is a fantastic way to transition into the terrifying “real world.” Amherst also has a lot of money devoted to internal fellowships; it just takes a bit of searching to find the right opportunity.
Ultimately, it’s important to realize that while study abroad can be a valuable experience, it’s not the best fit for everyone.