Study Abroad Through Students’ Eyes

Gearing Up

For those interested in studying abroad, the process of going to a different country may seem arduous. However, there are plenty of steps that you can take in order to make sure you are well informed, and well prepared before you see yourself off. Emily Schutz, the Undergraduate Student Assistant for the Study Abroad Office, offered a six-step breakdown for applying to programs prior to departure:

  1. Attend Study Abroad 101: This info session covers most of the general and initial questions that students may have about going abroad. Emily notes that this session addresses “the requirements to go abroad, the general timeline, how to decide where to go, and firsthand accounts from study abroad ambassadors.”
  2. Fill out the intent form: The form can be found here, and should be filled out a full year before you want to go abroad. “You don’t have to be declared in your major/minor to fill out the intent form, or even know where you want to go!” This form helps the Study Abroad Office have a starting point when they meet with students later.
  3. Research: Students should look into a number of programs for study abroad, and then aim to narrow the pool down to 3-5 programs. Students should then stop by the Study Abroad Office to talk with a program assistant and narrow the list down even further. Emily says that “research should also include looking at scholarships and applying to those. Students can apply to these scholarships before they are admitted to a program!”
  4. Applying: Once a program has been selected, it’s then time to apply. The Study Abroad Office has a session called Study Abroad 201 that helps students learn how to fill out their applications correctly. Both the Clark University study abroad application as well as the selected program’s application need to be completed simultaneously and submitted by Clark’s deadline.
  5. Pre-Departure: Before a student goes abroad, they attend a Pre-Departure session that happens at the end of the semester before they go abroad. This session is another chance for students to ask any questions they may have thought of as well as to prepare for the coming semester.
  6. Go abroad! After all this hard work, you are finally ready to leave the country and begin your study abroad experience! 

Taking a Trek

Going to a different country to learn poses questions about different course schedules and structures, but also leaves people wondering what life is like for a student in a place across the world. A fellow Clark student, Alex Chilton, has been studying abroad since the Fall ’18 semester and agreed to answer some questions about his experience in London.

In the program Alex is enrolled in, he noted that the one big difference was the course structure. “The clearest difference,” he says “is that the courses we take go on for the full year instead of a semester.” He also said that the grading and testing or assessment is different in the fact that “there are not a lot of assignments. Most classes have maybe two or three essays per year. Some have none. And there are no midterm tests. Just a three hour final in the Summer term.”

Alex also mentioned how the teaching styles of his professors vary from those he has typically seen at Clark University. He says that the professors in London train you “to have a critical eye towards different theories and be able to engage and argue with the writings of different scholars” while the professors in the United States “focus on knowledge comprehension and analysis”. This means, that while abroad in London, one learns how to put different texts (sometimes concurrent ones, sometimes opposing ones) in conversation with one’s own work and each other. In the US, there is more emphasis on comprehending and analyzing individual texts while only sometimes putting them side by side with others.

The biggest piece of advice that Alex can offer to others going abroad is finding a nice balance: “Studying abroad is a lot of work. I definitely feel pressure to go off and experience the world around me, but there are also days when I get home from class and I just need to do homework and go to sleep. That was a feeling I had to get used to, but it also made me feel more at home, and less like I had to constantly get the most out of every minute. I think the most important thing is to try and find a good balance. I’ve been lucky enough to explore London and go out into the countryside, and see the rest of the UK. And I’ve taken the opportunity to travel to other places in Europe, such as Amsterdam. So the most important thing is to find that balance between work and play.”

So while studying abroad may seem like a giant behemoth for those of you only just starting to look into it, know that it is also a wonderful experience that combines exploration with hard work and unique learning styles. Once a balance is achieved between work and play, that’s when the true experience begins.


After the Adventure

While studying abroad is a wonderful experience to have, it will eventually come to a close as you return back home to Clark University. Many students here have made the transition from life abroad back to life in the city, but that doesn’t mean that the effects of the journey have to fade away. One such Clarkie, Katheryn McNicholas (’19), spoke to me about what it is like to make this return to the everyday here in Worcester. Katheryn stated “I found that, while I had changed abroad, I was able to adjust this new self to old contexts quite smoothly”.

She also states that “it is important not to rush [the retuning] process and to reflect on the parts of you from abroad you wish to hold on to or integrate into your life at Clark”. Both of these points illustrate wonderfully that any large move like the Study Abroad program will be a large part of your life from the moment it starts until long into the future.

There are also ways to stay involved in the Study Abroad program once your feet are back on the Clark campus that also allow you to vocalize and share the experiences that you had abroad. One such way is to become a Study Abroad Ambassador. These figures are recruited by the Study Abroad department to talk about their experiences in different places with students who have expressed interest in going abroad.

To students that have worries about the process of reintegrating into the small world that is Clark, McNicholas states that “Clark somehow felt smaller after returning,” but she is “more confident and able to connect work [she] had started there to mentors and departments here, which only expanded [her] academic and personal experiences as a student”. In this sense, McNicholas was awarded a larger world view that contrasted with the small size of Clark University. She is incorporating her newly found view of the world by writing an honors thesis based on research she did abroad on the European Union.

While the world may seem a lot larger upon returning home, it is truly how you connect to the vastness that helps you find your place in it. Returning from being abroad not only opens up the world to you, but also allows you to stake your claim in it.