After three semesters studying abroad, I am now super-wise and extremely cultured.
Just kidding! I’m only a little bit wise. I’m still extremely cultured though. So.
Just kidding again! Wow, this joke never gets old! But seriously, I have been studying abroad for three semesters now, and I have learned a thing or two here and there about what to look for in a study away site and what to expect from your experience one based on courses offered, city location, and other factors. I’ve spent time in Shanghai, London, Seoul, and Paris, (in that order, which means I flew from Asia to Europe to Asia to Europe, because I’m not good at planning). So, besides the whole “plan better” thing, here are the fruits of knowledge of my three semesters away:
First, the boring part: the actual schoolwork. Course availability in study away locations can vary, and I have heard that some students find their classes abroad are easier than classes in portal sites. My courses in London were definitely up to par with Shanghai, if not harder (read: London kicked my butt). In Seoul, I didn’t have much homework, but I learned a lot, and less assignments meant less pressure and more learning for pleasure. In Paris, I take my classes in French, but the academic level seems similar to Shanghai’s to me. However, the way subjects are approached can be quite different in the French academic system as compared with the American system, so if you’re looking for variety, local-language classes are a good way to get it.
In terms of course availability, Shanghai has the most courses and obviously the credits are much easier to apply to Shanghai’s specific majors. NYU’s sites in Paris and London offer mostly politics and history classes, and while Paris offers courses in French, London boasts lots business classes and a special Tisch fashion program. Since Yonsei University, NYU’s International Exchange partner (IEP) school in Seoul, welcomes upwards of 500 exchange students every semester, it offers classes in much more varied subject areas than the average NYU study away site. Unfortunately, barring exceptional circumstances, none of the courses from an IEP school like Yonsei will transfer as anything besides an elective. Great for your personal academic development, less great for your graduation requirement development.
Time for the fun part, also known as: not the schoolwork! A big part of studying away is getting to know your new city and learning how to get around (and how to run away from your schoolwork! Don’t tell my professors I said that). The physical parts of the transportation in each study away site is obviously similar, since you can only get so creative with the concept of a train underground. However, the city layout, fastest transport method, and even payment system can be wildly different.
In Shanghai, for example, walking from one metro stop to another sounds like something only a crazy person would do. But in Paris and London, one metro stop is usually so close to the next one on the line that walking there would only take ten to fifteen minutes and is barely an inconvenience. And each city has its own unique benefits to its particular system: in Seoul, students can load money onto their student ID and pay for public transport or coffee at the school café with it; in London, you can use a metro card or a contactless credit card so you never have to top it up; in Paris, you pay for the month and can then use the metro and bus as much as you want without a top-up; in Shanghai, you can exit the station on a negative balance and pay it off the next time you top up.
On the bus, try to find out whether you have to press a button on the bus to let the driver know to stop. Otherwise you will be annoyed and have to walk back, probably in the rain, because that’s how life works. Another useful secret weapon is knowing how to ask the driver to open the bus door to let you out (in French or Korean or whatever language you need), because sometimes they will wait at the stop but forget about the doors. Trust me. Learn from me.
Studying in so many different places unavoidably means meetings lots of people, but going to a portal campus versus a partner school versus a study away site attract different people and different numbers of people. The sheer number of students who study at Yonsei University, for example, means you’re bound to meet way more potential friends from different places and schools, but it can be overwhelming. The small number of students in the London and Paris campus means you have more of a chance to meet everyone, but you tend to meet many more Americans studying GLS or Business, rather than, say, a biology student from Finland. Not that that’s bad, but it’s a factor if you really really want to meet Finnish biology students. I don’t know what you want. I’m just the messenger.
When studying away, it’s also useful to consider the culture of meeting people in your city and campus. In London, for example, you can meet students by going to the student bars at our partner school, University of Central London (UCL), as long as you have your UCL student ID. Seoul has a thriving “foreigner” culture, and there are several “western” style bars frequented by friendly and open English speakers if you want to make foreign friends. In Paris, the culture of meeting people can be less open among Parisians themselves, just by nature of the structure of French society. Most people have a set group of friends and are less interested in buddying up with a foreigner for a semester. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something useful to know. (I’ll let you know if I find any French bars that cater to Finnish biology students.)
Clubs! The school kind! Not to be confused with clubs! The night kind! English is fun. Anyway, each study away site can offer its own version of extracurriculars. You may not put too much importance on it when you’re applying somewhere, which is fair, but remember that extracurriculars are important for meeting people and developing your well-rounded self for whatever is the next thing you’re applying for. Especially in exchange partner schools like Yonsei University, extracurriculars are really helpful for meeting people, particularly local students. Since most classes at Yonsei are taken with just exchange students, the best way to meet Yonsei students is a club. Yonsei has a few clubs aimed at integrating Korean and international students, but you can usually join a regular club as long as you ask nicely and know a little Korean.
In NYU’s study away locations, the menu for extracurriculars tends to be significantly more limited. You can join clubs at UCL if you’re in London, but it requires some paperwork (I wish I was joking) so a lot of students don’t bother. In Paris, NYU students can form clubs without too much trouble, but this semester there are only two, plus weekly yoga. Shanghai, as a portal campus, obviously gives us many more options. However, studying away at any NYU site gives you access to Cultural Programming, where students can experience cultural activities like the opera and the ballet and visit places like Marseille (in France) or Brighton (UK), all for free.
Xiang jia le ma ?
Deciding to do two semesters abroad was easy; there were so many places I wanted to visit, and basically everyone I knew was going abroad during their third year, so not a lot was keeping me in Shanghai. When I decided to take a third semester abroad, it was because I had just visited Paris. I really loved it there, and it was wonderful to reunite with other NYUSH friends. But I knew that not everyone would be studying abroad anymore, and I probably would miss out on a lot. And I am missing a lot. I was in Shanghai this summer, and when everyone started arriving back in the city for the fall semester, I definitely felt a pang of regret. I would miss my friends and classmates, and miss spending time with people who understand what NYU Shanghai is, why it’s so wonderful, but also why it’s not perfect. And I do. I’m missing birthdays, I’m missing spending my last year with dear friends, and I’m shoving all my last required classes into one semester. It’s sad, and it’s hard keeping in touch all the time.
Moving around every semester, and always having to start from square one and try to meet new friends was never going to be easy. Fitting in all my Global China Studies requirements while studying abroad in places that aren’t China: also not easy. But studying abroad for a third time is also an incredible privilege; I know I’m incredibly lucky and I would never say I regret this decision. I have made incredible friends here and I’m finally getting the chance to take a linguistics course. But if you do decide to take three semesters abroad, know it’s not all peaches and roses. (Is that even an expression? If it’s not, let’s just pretend it is.)
3 semesters and “academic need”
Students now need to be able to prove an “academic need” to take three semesters abroad; I’m not sure how strict the word “need” is in this context. After all, you are at NYU to better your own future, whether that means to get a better job or to prepare for a Master’s degree, or just for the intrinsic benefits of an education. Studying away for a third semester can be a way to achieve those ends, and to me that constitutes an academic need. Therefore, arguing that you hope to study away in a third location so that you can improve your third language skills and get a job in that market later should be a perfectly acceptable argument for academic need. Whether that’s true in practice is different, but I can attest that this angle of argument is what allowed me to study abroad in a third city.
I was originally told I could, and then told (several times) that I could not study abroad a third time. I sent a lot of emails and made a lot of phone calls before I was given permission to take a third semester abroad, and from that experience alone, the best advice I can tell students now is be your own advocate. Don’t let one person telling you “no” be the end of the story. Know your requirements, know how many credits you need to graduate, and be able to prove on paper that you can do it and still graduate on time. Don’t give up until you’ve exhausted every avenue: you are ultimately the one responsible for your education.
And that is my advice for anyone who wants to study away, no matter where or how long: be your own advocate, take responsibility for yourself, and chase every opportunity. It will serve you well in your new home.
This article was written by Dana Meyers. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Dana Meyers