A pretty large number of my Pomona friends are studying abroad this semester, and if not this semester, they plan to go abroad in the spring. We are in places as far-flung as Cameroon, Germany, Australia, Hungary, China, Greece — the list goes on. We all made the decision to forfeit a semester at Pomona, giving up loads of interesting classes, on-campus involvement and responsibilities, Taco Tuesdays, perfect weather, all manner of Claremont traditions and shenanigans, and time together with friends, professors, classmates, and teammates. Why leave behind all these opportunities to go halfway around the globe? Here are a few of the reasons I chose to study abroad:
1. Getting out of the Bubble
In my opinion, the Claremont Bubble is a pretty sweet place — interesting and intelligent people, an emphasis on social justice, beautiful weather, gorgeous campuses, and opportunities galore. It’s wonderful in most respects, but it’s also an oasis that can feel disconnected from the real world. Maybe it was just too much of a good thing, but by the end of my sophomore year, I was itching to get out of comfortable Claremont and into the real world. I was looking for a break in my routine. I wanted to confront real-world challenges, I wanted to experience real weather, I wanted to expand my world outside of the few square miles that make up my home for eight months of the year.
This summer, I left Claremont behind for a summer internship in Oakland, but it wasn’t until I arrived in China that I really felt worlds away, completely outside my comfort zone.
At the same time, I know I’ll be thrilled to return to Claremont in the spring and be reunited with all the people that make it such a special place. I’ll return reinvigorated, with new perspectives and a deeper appreciation for life at Pomona.
2. Brand new experiences
Being in Kunming is something totally new and different. New scenery, new people, new opportunities, new foods, new routines. I saw the 5 AM flag-raising at Tiananmen Square, then visited Mao Zedong’s mausoleum. I hiked by a Muslim burial ground in the mountains overlooking Dali. Last week, I (along with a few other Americans) was spontaneously cast in a commercial for an American-style seafood restaurant. I met an Naxi minority grandma, who ended up inviting me to visit her house in Lijiang).
Practically every day, my lunch costs less than one American dollar and (if it’s from the cafeteria), I eat it out of a metal canister. I plan to backpack through Tiger Leaping Gorge for my fall break. I am taking a class on Yunnan’s Ethnic Minorities. My dorm room looks out over a bustling alley full of street vendors selling almost anything imaginable. I learned how to play Mah Jong and am taking classes in calligraphy and Bruce Lee-style martial arts. And that’s just me; other friends have taken weekend trips to Tasmania, sang at a wedding in Beijing, or been moved by the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Less than halfway through my semester abroad, I know these kinds of experiences are worth it.
3. A unique, well-timed opportunity
Sure I could study abroad over the summer or after graduation, but more than likely the money for that would come out of my own pocket. At Pomona, a semester abroad costs the same amount as a semester on campus and financial aid carries over, making it affordable. It’s also a nice long four-month-plus (or year-long, as some people choose) chunk of time, meaning more time for cultural immersion, language acquisition, travel, academic classes, and just having a meaningful experience. And of course, it’s great to go abroad as a college student, as there are lots of interesting young people to meet and I’m energetic enough to explore the outdoors, enjoy nightlife, and do a lot of traveling.
4. Language learning
It makes a lot of sense to learn Chinese in China. For me, language acquisition was a major factor in choosing to spend a whole semester abroad. As my program director likes to remind us, we probably won’t have the opportunity to formally study Chinese in such an intensive, academically rigorous environment again. Simply existing in China could improve my language ability to some extent, but the added components of challenging language classes, a Chinese roommate, and a serious language pledge provide a big extra push, making this semester’s experience unique.