Professors and students hold panel on studying abroad

While the discussion of the study abroad experience traditionally only encompasses time spent away from campus, students and faculty have recently made efforts to extend the conversation to students’ returns to Williamstown. On Feb. 26, Professor of Romance Languages Soledad Fox held the second panel on studying abroad entitled “Round Trip: Reflections on Life Before, During and After Going Abroad.”

“The goal of these panels is to create a conversation that helps integrate students’ experiences abroad with their lives here on campus,” Fox said. The panel consisted of Betty Annan-Nonood ’18, Samuel Grunenbaum ’19, Reed Jenkins ’19 and Deepak Indrakanti ’19, who studied in Mendoza, Buenos Aires, Prague and Barcelona, respectively.

Fox was motivated to help lead this discussion due to her international upbringing and scholarly work, including teaching a literature course called “Americans Abroad.” She recognized that the study abroad experience is not self-encompassing; rather, there are valuable crossovers between time spent in classrooms overseas and at the College. “They bring so much back and have so much to share with each other and with their professors,” Fox said. “There are so many rich points of contact between studying away and our curriculum… These students are a great resource for all of us to continue exploring the great value of international education.”

The panel, which was attended by approximately 25 students, served as both a space for students returning from abroad to discuss their travels and for students planning to go abroad to learn about various experiences. The vignettes told varied from learning to embrace loneliness and dislocation, to educating others about U.S. politics, to getting lost in big cities, to witnessing political turmoil, to learning about history at the sites at which events actually occurred.

“I talked a lot about my challenges and some of the things that I found most rewarding about being abroad, particularly being in Barcelona during the conflict between Catalonia and Spain and being in an impartial position,” Indrakanti said.

For students who plan to study abroad, the panelists offered multiple perspectives on experiences abroad and sought to help them prepare for their travels. “Going to live and study somewhere else in an immersive environment is a big and exciting decision, and though it’s a normal part of undergraduate life for many, we shouldn’t treat study away with undue nonchalance,” Fox said.

Fox explained that the panel raised broad questions. “What are students’ expectations before they go abroad? How are they going to adjust to an entirely new environment when, for many, adjusting to the College has already been a challenge? What kinds of dialogues can we keep fostering on campus that can be helpful to students who are departing [from] or returning to campus?” Fox said.

Panelists also addressed more practical topics, including how to practice foreign languages when people insist on speaking in English and how to manage exchange rates and cost-of-living expenses.

Going forward, Fox plans to continue engaging students with the study abroad experience through similar events. She also aims to invite alumni who have used knowledge of languages and drawn on experiences abroad in their careers to speak about the long-term influences of studying abroad.

“None of us should assume we know what it is like for someone else to adjust to living in a new environment, and everyone who has undergone the experience has something to teach us,” Fox said. “If I just ask, ‘How was Spain?’ and they say, ‘Great’ or ‘Pretty good,’ that should be a conversation opener, not a dead end.”

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