Hello all! For my first post here I want to talk about my most recent Dartmouth experience, that is my wonderful time spent on one of Dartmouth’s many off campus programs. Dartmouth offers a number of Off-Campus Programs, labeled either as an LSA (Language Study Abroad) or FSP (Foreign Study Program). There are varying degrees of difficulty for the language programs and they’re offered all terms. The FSPs usually correspond with a specific department such as the Anthropology, Theater, or History Departments. Each program, LSA or FSP, has a specific curriculum, a Dartmouth faculty member travelling as an overall advisor, and around 8-16 Dartmouth students. I recently returned from London, England after participating on the History FSP this past fall term (September-December 2013). The overall experience was incredible, to say the least, and made all the better by the people I spent the term with. Previously, during my sophomore spring (March to June 2013) I spent the term in Buenos Aires, Argentina on the Spanish LSA. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to study abroad twice, and I believe my experience in London was that much more rewarding because I had already lived abroad. Here are some of my observations from my overall experience from the two trips.
1) Living in a big city for 10 weeks is more rewarding, challenging, and exciting than you would think.
I live in a medium sized town in the Bay Area, so I don’t have much experience with cities except for the occasional trip up to San Francisco. Living in Buenos Aires was great because my homestay was very much in the center of the bustling, vibrant commercial district. That said, it was a steep learning curve on how to navigate the bus system, the metro, and grasp a basic sense of direction, all while speaking a foreign language. After getting lost twice the first week, missing my apartment by 26 blocks on a run, and leaving the house one hour before any event for the first two weeks, I finally got my bearings and started to simply explore. Buenos Aires is laid out a grid, so in theory, I shouldn’t have gotten lost in the first place. Oh well. Living in a city is an exhilarating and exhausting occupation. Everything you need—a laundry mat, farmer’s market, museum, shopping mall, you name it, is about a 20-30 minute walk or 10 minute commute away, sometimes closer. I learned living in a city, that for me personally, walking is a more rewarding and easier way to get about the city (especially in Buenos Aires where you can’t always time the buses or the metro). Finally, living in a city makes you appreciate the countryside and those small vacations even more. In Argentina, I travelled to Mendoza and San Carlos de Bariloche on my week holiday. In London, I went to Scotland for a week to visit friends in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but also travelled to the Isle of Skye and the highlands on a backpacking tour.
2) Don’t be afraid to do things by yourself.
I know some of my friends do this, and I am definitely guilty of this too: I sometimes won’t do something unless a friend goes with me. I think this lesson applies to both abroad experiences but also college in general. It’s totally acceptable to go places by yourself, eat by yourself, or watch movies by yourself, especially when on a Dartmouth FSP or LSA. You want to go to that modern art gallery that’s only here for the weekend? Go! Don’t worry if you have to go alone, it’s nice to sometimes get away from all your lovely Dartmouth friends on the LSA/FSP. Plus you’ll have a great story to tell when you get back. In London for example, I needed an escape, that I got up one Saturday morning and went to a local Christmas market out in Zone 2 (a 30 minute tube ride from my flat), accidentally stumbled upon a local farmer’s market, and ended up speaking with one of the vendors for 20 minutes about my experience in London. It was so refreshing to get away from the Dartmouth flats and my fellow FSPers, not because I was upset or mad at them, no, I just needed the space. Doing things by myself in London (like visiting museums, seeing plays, or finding local markets) let me feel more like a Londoner than someone in that grey void between tourist and resident.
3) Finally, really immerse yourself in the culture you’re living in.
Yes, it’s a bit cliché, but you’re living in a foreign country and studying through a fantastic program; so, how could you not? You will only get as much out of the LSA/FSP as you put in. And really, that applies for anything at Dartmouth. If you shut down or spend your whole time texting/Facebooking people back home, of course you are going to have a rotten time. Getting homesick is absolutely acceptable, but you have to find a way to feel comfortable in your new surroundings. For me, I always pack my favorite lip balms, body wash, and perfume from home, so I can always feel comfortable through scent. It may sound a bit silly, but you often have to close the laptop and just get moving.
Studying abroad has defined my Dartmouth experience, so I’m sure I’ll come up with more posts on specific stories from the two trips. If you’re interested in the specific programs Dartmouth Off-Campus Programs has to offer check out http://dartmouth.edu/global/global-learning/study-around-world