I spent both semesters abroad last year. I’m glad I did, and I would highly recommend that everybody go abroad for at least some time. Whether you want to learn a language, work at a conservatory or pay a visit to the British university system in the form of the Oxford program, the option to learn or to experience something outside the familiar Williams classroom-focused, remote New England life context offers great opportunity for personal and intellectual growth. True, you might miss being at the College – I certainly did – but you’ll be back. And, as it turns out, coming back was one of the best parts for me.
I was at Oxford last year, and I would be happy to prattle on and on with anyone who will listen about the academic and social growth I experienced there and the virtues of going abroad in general. But equally, if not more importantly, I now have a new lease on life at the College. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved it here. I had a close entry, enjoyed the support of JAs whom I now miss dearly, formed other friendships all over campus and relished the development of my academic life. After being away for a year though, these things somehow stand out in sharper relief. It wasn’t just being mobbed by a group of people whom I hadn’t seen together for 15 months, waking up to see the mountains, whose beauty I had become almost totally desensitized to over the first couple of years here, or sitting back down in familiar classrooms with familiar professors who are much friendlier than their English counterparts. It was the combination of these things and many others that contributed to an immediate and deep-seated revelation about just how spoiled we are at the College and how lucky we are to be here.
Everyone in the Williams community wants us to succeed as students and as people. There are the obvious examples, such as the continual invitations by professors to come to office hours, a phenomenon which doesn’t even exist on the other side of the Atlantic, or the cadre of advisors in the Chaplain’s Office, another set of mentors absent in my year abroad. In addition, we have academic support organizations as diverse as the Writing Workshop and Peer Tutoring. Really, though, all of this struck me when I was having a conversation with my suitemate, who decided to be a first-year academic mentor this year. Considering all the support systems that are absent when we go abroad and at other institutions, I ruminated about those that we have here. For first years, we have a weeklong orientation, led by two carefully selected and dedicated JAs. We have first-year faculty advisors to meet with everyone personally. That’s not to mention the way that professors walk us through syllabi and expectations all through the first weeks we experience as a college students. And now we’ve added even another layer of support and guidance. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; I think we should absolutely make what could be a difficult transition as smooth as possible. But for me, it was a paradigmatic example of the layers of support and interest in student and community welfare that saturate the College and its population – and separate Williams from other institutions.
I’m not simply saying all this to revel in my happiness at being back or to propagate a blind, uncritical love for the College. Indeed, I think if we do love the College, the best thing we can do is to be appropriately critical of it. But I wanted to share my thoughts on this subject to start the year – to welcome seniors back, both from abroad and not. To wish juniors good luck, whether they go away this year or choose to do something else entirely. To suggest that sophomores consider seriously, and enjoy considering, all the wonderful options open to them, whether they want to go abroad, apply to be a JA or do anything else. And to welcome freshmen and urge them to appreciate early and often what we have here. Whether it is catalyzed by going abroad or not, I hope we can all grow in our appreciation of the College as we grow together through our four years here.
Hilary Ledwell ’12 is a history and religion double major from Little Rock, Ark. She lives in Dodd.