Visiting students penetrate purple bubble as study abroad destination

It’s no secret that many students at the College choose to study abroad, forsaking the comforts of the purple bubble and opting instead to explore life in a different country.

What is less widely known, however, is that students from across the world select Williamstown as their study abroad location. Over the course of my interviews with Monica Tam, Hiroyuki Miyatake and Yulia Krivchenkova, I discovered why the College is such an appealing destination.

Tam, a graduate of the Chinese-English Translation program at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) decided to spend her gap year between undergraduate and graduate studies in an entry; she will spend a full year at the College before beginning a program in International Relations at the University of Kent. Tam is a proud member of Mills 2 and holds the utmost respect for her JAs. “I love my JAs! At CUHK, I organized first-year orientation programs, and so I know the stress and obligations of caring for younger students. I really appreciate the work they do for the entry,” she said. Despite the fact that Tam lives in an entry, because she is enrolled only for a year through a study abroad program, she and her fellow classmates from abroad are not considered members of any one class on campus.

Furthermore, the tight-knit community of scholars, artists and athletes on campus provides an opportunity for exchange students to actively engage in the community. Miyatake, a student at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, also appreciates the strong sense of community felt on campus. “In Japan, many universities do not offer housing for students, and so most students live in nearby apartments. At Williams, almost all housing is on-campus, and so you get the opportunity to truly participate in the community. I think this really helps you develop into a whole person,” he said.

The inclusive atmosphere of 2000 students is certainly a change of pace and can feel like a breath of fresh air for students coming from large universities where resources are spread thin.

Krivchenkova, a student at Moscow City Teacher Training University, was especially excited about the technology available in classroom-setting. “As a teaching assistant for Russian, I am amazed at how well-equipped classrooms are on campus,” she said. “The use of projectors, being able to switch between two different operating systems and the opportunity to use multimedia really facilitates learning by making it more interactive and interesting.” Krivchenkova echoed Miyatake’s sentiment that residential living has given college life a different texture. Large universities often require students to make time-consuming commutes to attend classes on an urban, unconsolidated campus. “In Moscow, it is not unheard for students to leave their house at 7 a.m. to make the hour-and-a-half commute to attend class at 9 a.m.,” she said.

Though international exchange students enjoy many aspects of life at the College, that is not to say that the adjustment process isn’t challenging.  Institutionally, clashes in different educational philosophies can be felt among exchange students. For example, students hailing from universities in which lectures were the primary structure of class meetings might have a rough time adjusting to the discussion-based seminars that serve as a cornerstone of our rigorous liberal arts education. “I find that education in Hong Kong is so fact-based and relies so much on rote memorization. At Williams, a huge emphasis is placed on critical thinking skills and the discussion of ideas,” Tam said.

Miyatake felt similarly: “At Doshisha, you would take 12 classes per semester and even classes that were liberal arts in focus were more lecture than seminar, so it was not the true experience.”

The educational systems certainly vary from region to region, but the overwhelming trend in East Asian countries is more focused on memorization. “I am so glad to be able to experience the best of both worlds: a liberal arts education from both the East and the West,” Tam said. This is not to mention the adjustment to American culture: “Sportsmanship seems like a huge thing in American culture. People bond over playing and watching sports games. My JA once asked me, ‘What kind of sports do people in Hong Kong get excited about?’ In reply, I said, ‘Uh, people in Hong Kong go crazy over stock market rises in the Hang Seng Index.’” Tam said.

So why study abroad at the College? “Though we have no teaching assistants in Russia, I really enjoy my position as a TA because it allows me to appreciate the beauty and difficulty that comes with learning Russian,” Krivchenkova said. “I really want to make the language accessible to others.”

Miyatake shared a different perspective. “Having lived six years in the U.S. prior to Williams, English has been a major part of my life, and I’ve always wanted to do something with it, so Williams was a great fit,” he said.

“I chose CUHK because it is one of the few universities in Hong Kong to have strong programs in the humanities, and so Williams seemed like the natural choice,” Tam said of her decision. Overall, the College attracts students from around the world for good reason: a sturdy liberal arts education. Exchange students, as few and far between as they are, hold a crucial role in the College community by enriching our student body with their experiences.