Category Archives: Study Abroad

Looking to the Fall: Studying Abroad in Paris

Here on campus, we’ve just started our finals period! Even in the midst of exams and papers, though, our ambassadors are looking ahead. Sophomore Shanna Smith discusses her plans to study abroad next semester, all while juggling the requirements of being a biology major on a pre-med track!

By: Shanna Smith ’18

I was once told that for me, studying abroad would be difficult, if not impossible. Touring colleges, I was always afraid I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my dreams and go abroad due to my rigorous major, Biological Sciences on a pre-medical track. During my first month here at Cornell, I hesitantly approached my pre-medical advisor, Ana Adinolfi, and asked how difficult it would be to study abroad. Her response: incredibly easy.

210Having studied French since middle school, I continued my francophone education at Cornell during my first semester. I initially began French here to fulfill my Arts & Sciences language requirement, but I immediately fell in love with Cornell’s French program. Taking French has allowed me to think in a much different way than in my biology courses. During French class I step away from biological processes and organic molecules towards an incredibly difficult yet rewarding way of thinking – in words that a couple years ago had absolutely no meaning to me. Cornell not only offers French grammar courses but also courses in French literature, films, culture, and the most unique one I have seen: pronunciation. The latter I am currently enrolled in and I cannot express how much more fluent I feel and sound in the language. As a result, I have taken French all four of my semesters here at Cornell, far beyond what’s necessary to fulfill the language requirement. By my freshman spring, I knew I had to study abroad in France.

In just three months, I will study in Paris with one of Cornell’s amazing French-speaking programs, EDUCO. I will take classes at universities in Paris and be completely immersed in the French language and Parisian culture. A major focus of the EDUCO program is to integrate students into French culture in all aspects. Thus, I will be a true Parisian student, not a tourist traveling to France for a semester. My courses will mainly fulfill distribution requirements outside of biology. However, I am not completely taking a break from my major. The EDUCO program can set me up with biology research in Paris, and it will count as one of the four courses EDUCO students must take!

219I utilized the Arts & Sciences study abroad advisors’ open office hours as a resource multiple times when going through the application process, and both Dean Patricia Wasyliw and Dean Clare McMillan were incredibly helpful. They made the application process as easy and as non-stressful as possible; they truly want every student to have the opportunity to go abroad. Ms. Adinolfi also helped me lay out a 4-year college schedule that allows me to spend a semester abroad.

I cannot wait for this opportunity to see and appreciate Paris, because it holds so much beauty, history, and culture. I will not be limited to Paris, however. There will be various trips scheduled specifically for my program to let students explore other parts of France, and I’ll also be able to spend weekends traveling around Europe if I want. My ultimate goal is to become fluent in French, and after taking many courses at Cornell and learning more and more about the EDUCO program, that goal seems very probable.

I will always be grateful that Cornell has given me the gift of studying abroad, despite past fears that it was a terrible idea for someone in my major. I went from being uncertain that I would have time in my busy course schedule to go abroad to committing to a wonderful Parisian abroad program and picking up a French minor.

GOVT 3434: Chinese Empire and the Cambodian Experience

By: Austin McLaughlin ’18

Arriving back in chilly, cloudy Ithaca for the spring semester was in stark contrast to the 95-degree sunny days in Cambodia. Altogether, I spent 14 days in Siem Reap and 5 in Phnom Penh. I didn’t get a tan, but I did leave with an enriching experience.

Wat Damnak

The grounds of Wat Damnak, the holiest Buddhist site in Siem Reap. Our class was held there.

This is in part because GOVT 3434 was not like other classes. While the course offers a few days of in-class lecture, it was largely centered on guest speakers, field trips, and on-site lectures. Led by Professor Andrew Mertha, the course delved into questions about the relationship between China and Cambodia and brought in unique political, anthropological, and archeological perspectives in addition to the complex history between the two countries.

Austin at Angkor Wat

Me at Angkor Wat, the largest religious site in the world.

While the course mainly focused on Cambodia’s recent history, it still left room for sightseeing of the ancient temples. Notably, Cambodia is the only nation in the world to fly a flag proudly emblazoned with old ruins, and deservedly so, as Angkor Wat is the most magnificent structure I have ever laid my eyes on. The walled complex is huge for something built in the 12th century, and its stone carvings are both intricate and expansive. Later, our class toured the smiling Buddha faces at Bayon and the giant trees growing on the ruins of Ta Prohm. These temples are all representative of Cambodia’s rich cultural history, a source of pride for the country to this day.

The whole program at Angkor Wat

The whole program, alongside TC3 students, at Angkor Wat.

Of particular relevance for the course, we had the opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a tribunal to convict leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Less than 50 feet from us, through a glass pane, was Khieu Samphan, the president of Democratic Kampuchea and the man responsible for the deaths of 2 million people. Seeing his unmoving face was truly a surreal experience.

Truly, never did I think I would eat whole frogs, trek through jungles, or even get a massage. Cornell in Cambodia allowed me to try new things and opened my eyes to a different perspective on the world. Thinking about it several weeks later, I am brought back to this original question: why Cambodia?

Anlong Veng

The whole group at Pol Pot’s bunker in Anlong Veng, which is a two-hour hike through the jungle.

For me, it was about adventure. I wanted to find the edgiest possible study abroad program offered by Cornell, one that would also offer me intellectual growth. While Cambodia is not a Rome, Madrid, or Berlin study abroad, it remains a unique opportunity for personal enrichment. Before Cambodia, I had no conception of a developing country, much less how a population views and responds to a world dominated by the West. Afterward, I grew to appreciate the abundance and availability of products in the U.S. and the privileged position we live in. The winter course also remains a great option for those who don’t want to miss a full semester in Ithaca, like me, because they love being on campus.

I am very thankful for being able to go on this rewarding and transformational trip, as not only was it one of the best experiences I have had at Cornell, but also in my life. Shout-out to the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) as well as Mr. Pheng, our facilitator, for making this trip possible.

Study Abroad: Havana, Cuba

We close out November with a post from junior Maya Golliday, who is studying abroad in Cuba. She provides an exciting perspective on academics and student life outside of Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, NY. Enjoy!

By: Maya Golliday ’17

What’s good, prospective students and parents!? I am currently almost finished with my semester abroad in the beautiful “La Habana” and would love to tell you a little bit about my experience thus far.Maya

I guess I’ll hit the ground running and start with why I chose Cuba (and also how I’m able to study in Cuba given the history the US has had with Cuba and restrictions on travel). As we know, the Obama administration has made efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and in doing so, restrictions on travel to the country have been lessened. Americans are able to get licenses to travel to Cuba for very specific purposes and studying abroad or “educational activities” is one of the permitted occasions for travel.

Plaza de la Revolución

Plaza de la Revolución

I chose Cuba specifically because out of all the countries that Cornell Abroad offers, the Cornell in Cuba: CASA Consortium program seemed to fit perfectly with my interests and passions. As a government major, I study international relations and comparative politics; given the political history of the two countries and President Obama’s recent efforts to normalize relations, Cuba could not have been a more attractive country to spend my fall semester abroad in. I am also a Spanish major and Latin American studies minor, so my time here is providing me with an opportunity to better my Spanish and broaden my knowledge about another Latin American country.

The first week or two in Cuba felt like an eternity because so many things had to be taken care of. First on the agenda was to introduce us to our host families and get settled in to our “casas particulares” (home stays). The “casa” that I was placed in is an awesome apartment near the “malecón” with incredible views of the ocean. I eat breakfast and dinner every night with other students from the program in this apartment complex.

the view

The view from my “casa particular” of the ocean and the city of Havana.

Next on the agenda of things to accomplish was picking classes. The CASA consortium program gives us the option to take classes at Casa De Las Americas (CDLA) (a research institute in Havana) or the University of Havana (U.H). I, as did many of my peers, chose to take classes in both. CDLA and UH both have a shopping period where students can sit in on classes and see which ones they would like to take (very similar to Cornell’s add/drop period), so I spent my first two weeks attending multiple classes and talking with professors to finalize my schedule for the semester.

After a couple of weeks, things slowed down and we all settled into some sort of groove and were able to start venturing out on our own to figure out our social lives here in Cuba. Our program funds many group activities/trips on the weekends (such as bike rides, beach excursions, weekend-long trips to other parts of the island, etc.), but when we do have downtime, my friends and I love to just stay in Havana and find things to do on our own.

Beach day

Beach day with the entire program.

Havana is an invigorating city because there is always something going on and you can always find something to do. Almost every couple of weeks there is a new cultural/arts festival and on any night you can find a plethora of musical concerts, theatre performances, or dancing events. And for those chill nights where you just feel like sitting and talking with friends… the “malecón” seems to be the local favorite! On this rocky barrier that rests against the ocean and borders the entire city to the north, you can find families, teens, and everyone in between chatting, dancing, or listening to music. To me, this spot is the heart of Havana.

My friends and I have found ourselves spending a lot of our free time taking dance classes. I compete for Cornell’s Varsity Track and Field team back in Ithaca, so to stay active (and because you can’t come to Cuba and leave without becoming a “salsera”) I’ve been a Salsa class regular.

All in all, though, I’ve been enjoying my time here in Havana. There is no doubt in my mind that my decision to study abroad was the best decision I’ve made at Cornell and I am so lucky to have found a program that is such a great fit for me!

When in Rome: Summer Study Abroad

By: Emma Korolik ’17

This past summer, I spent a month in Rome, Italy studying abroad through the College of Arts and Sciences. As a double major (English and Sociology) with a minor (Education) and a deep love for Cornell’s Ithaca campus, I wasn’t sure about going abroad. Yet, when I heard about a four-week creative-writing summer program in the heart of Rome, I knew I had to apply. Italy seemed like the perfect place to feel inspired, and I was right.

With a little maneuvering, we managed to fit everyone in the program into our Cenci common room for some big, family-style dinners!

With a little maneuvering, we managed to fit everyone in the program into our Cenci common room for some big, family-style dinners!

Once I arrived in Rome, I moved into an apartment (called “Cenci”) with seven other students. Our apartment was massive – we had two bathrooms, a full kitchen, enormous bedrooms and a common room that frequently hosted Cenci “family” dinners, debates, card games and writing frenzies. Almost every morning, the eight of us would walk out our front door, turn the corner, and grab a coffee and a pastry from Bar del Cappuccino. Then we’d hurry to creative writing class, which was housed in Palazzo Lazzaroni, a beautiful old building just five minutes from our apartment.

We didn’t spend every day in the classroom. At least some of the day – or the whole day – was often spent traveling. We visited churches designed by Borromini and Bernini with Jeffrey Blanchard, an expert in Baroque art; sketched sculptures around Rome with Professor Taft, a Cornell art professor; walked through the ruins of Ostia Antica with Dr. Jan Gadeyne, an expert in archaeology and ancient art history; and wrote in the home of John Keats and the cemetery where he was buried with Michael Koch and Stephanie Vaughn, our two English professors.

Duomo di Orvieto, one of the many magnificent churches we visited on our trip

Duomo di Orvieto, one of the many magnificent churches we visited on our trip

We spent two days traveling to Tivoli and Orvieto, where we got to try wild boar, an assortment of prosciutti, all different types of homemade pasta, puff pastries with cream and black currants (oh, if only I could go back in time and eat that dessert all over again) and some truly excellent red and white wines.

In our free time, we visited Vatican City, where I sat in on my first ever Catholic mass at St. Peter’s Basilica (imagine that!), the Pantheon, and the Colosseum, all of which were within walking distance of our classroom and our apartment. We walked through the Borghese Museum, swam in the Mediterranean, took the train to Naples and ate in view of Mt. Vesuvius, and even explored Pompeii, fulfilling my dreams from seventh grade world history:).

The most perfect dessert: a puff pastry filled with cream and black currants

The most perfect dessert: a puff pastry filled with cream and black currants

I remember so much from this trip – so many names and places and experiences, and a lot of this is due to one of the defining parts of the Cornell in Rome summer program: each student is required to keep a journal for the whole month. Every day, we wrote three journal entries. What we wrote was almost completely up to us – we responded to prompts from the professors, updated Ovid’s myths for modern times, quickly jotted down details on a train ride back from the beach or wrote nonsensical sentences with our housemates on the Ponte Garibaldi as the sun set over the Tiber (8:33, the time the sun set that evening, has since become a rallying cry of sorts for all of us who lived in Cenci). Beyond that, we wrote several short stories (or poems), which we workshopped in small groups, and at the end of the trip, we read our favorites in front of the whole program before enjoying a final dinner together at our professors’ favorite restaurant.

The Cenci Eight: Amanda, Esther, Emma (me!), Joanna, Joy, Eily, Kai and Nigel on one of the many bridges crossing the Tiber River

Of course, this trip wouldn’t have been as special without the people experiencing it with me. In total, there were 17 students and three professors who flew over from the United States for the program. Fifteen of us were Cornell students, and some were rising sophomores, some rising juniors and several were rising seniors. We were split into three apartments, of which Cenci was the largest, and our class was split into narrative and verse writers, so within our 17-person program, we worked with an even smaller group for reading, writing and workshopping.

My Intermediate/Advanced Narrative Writing class with our professor, the incomparable Michael Koch

My Intermediate/Advanced Narrative Writing class with our professor, the incomparable Michael Koch

I’ve become amazingly close with everyone on that trip – one of my first nights back in Ithaca this fall, I went out for dinner with almost everyone from Cenci. Every time I run into someone from the program on campus – whether we’re at the homecoming football game, at a café, on the stairs on our way to class or out in Collegetown – we stop, say hi, hug and chat.

Everyone always talks about how, as cheesy as it sounds, college is the time when you make friends for life, and now I’ve definitely found my group – from all over the U.S. to Rome, Italy and back to Ithaca, we’ve stuck together and we’ll share those Rome memories forever.

What to Do When You Are Abroad

A soccer game between Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago that I attended while in Argentina

A soccer game between Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago that I attended while in Argentina

by Jacob Brunell ’15

There seems to be a lot of information out there telling college students why it is such a great idea to study abroad, but far less advice on what to do after your plane lands and you find yourself thrust out in the middle of a smoggy, loud, foreign city. Indeed, a big part of why some people are hesitant about studying abroad is because they are not sure if they can adjust to life on a day-to-day basis in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language fluently, if they will be too far out of their comfort zone, if they will be able to make friends, etc.  I know this, because these were all feelings that I experienced before I took the leap and sent in my application to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina last fall.

It is for that reason that I’m sharing the advice below with you.  To be sure, not all of the points listed below will apply to everyone.  Nor is this a very comprehensive list.  After all, studying abroad is about learning how to figure out things and yourself, and experiencing things in your own way.   So with all that said, I’m hoping the following six pieces of advice can at least provide the potential study abroad student in Arts and Sciences with some useful insight that might make you more comfortable to take the leap and send in that application to Cornell Abroad:

Make friends with your classmates

  • Talk to people in your classes at your local university (as opposed to just people on your program) on the first day of class and every class after, because the sooner you start the sooner you’ll start making local friends.  Additionally, if there are other international students in your classes (not from the country you are studying in, but also not from the US), make an effort to talk to them as well.  As long as you’re getting to know people from different cultures/backgrounds you’ll have a fulfilling abroad experience.  Only talk to Americans, probably not so much…

Speak the local language

  • On a related topic to my last point, always start your conversations in the language of the place you are studying with everyone you meet, both inside of class and out.  If you don’t, locals will often just assume you don’t have any great desire to speak to them in their language, and will default to English (if they speak it).  You won’t learn anything that way!

Cultural Enrichment 

  • If you have the opportunity to go to an opera, theatre performance, art gallery, or dance class courtesy of your study abroad program, take it! You don’t know when you will have a chance to experience these again.
Protest at El Obelisco, a monument located in the middle of the world’s widest avenue, July 9 Street

Protest at El Obelisco, a monument located in the middle of the world’s widest avenue, July 9 Street

Travel… but not too much!

  • If you are going anywhere in Europe you are likely intending to travel a lot, and visit every city you’ve always dreamed about visiting.  While I’m sure you’ll have fun if you do that, the only way you really get to know a city and learn a language is by spending a significant amount of time there, so make sure you are not leaving every single weekend.
  • While we’re on the topic of traveling, when you do decide to travel, don’t just go to the major cities.  Go to the second or third-tier cities, the rural towns, the places where if you meet someone who speaks English it will be a surprise as opposed to an expectation.  Take a bus ride to a place neither you nor your friends have ever heard of.
Japanese Gardens, located in one of Buenos Aires’ many large parks

Japanese Gardens, located in one of Buenos Aires’ many large parks

Join a Sports Team

  • Joining a sports team at your local university is not only a great way to make local friends, but will also be a lot of fun. Even if you don’t think you’re very good at a sport, there will likely be some fairly relaxed, recreational teams you can join that aren’t too competitive.

Have fun, but don’t forget your obligations from home!

  • Thousands of miles away from home, it’s very easy to feel pretty removed from what’s going on back in the U.S. For that reason, if you don’t want to have issues with transferring credit, getting major credit, getting a job in the summer when you get back, or even forgetting an important family member’s birthday, take my word for it—stay on top of your stuff!  In all likelihood, the classes you will be taking abroad will require less of a time commitment than your Cornell classes, and if you’re lucky will be slightly easier as well. Just make sure you’re taking the right classes, hitting your requirements, and getting decent (if not good) grades, as they do show up on your transcript, but aren’t calculated into your GPA.


A Summer in Suriname

by: Jacob Brunell

2014-07-20 06.46.04

When it first became apparent back in April that there was a possibility I might be spending my summer working at the U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname, I racked my mind for what I knew about the country. I had a rough idea of where Suriname was (on the northeast coast of South America) and what language was spoken there (Dutch), but beyond that, I had nothing.  At that point, I decided to spend a bit of time reading up about the country and its culture, history, and politics, figuring that if I ended up traveling there, with such knowledge I would hopefully be better equipped to converse with locals and adjust to daily life.

Fast-forward to today.  I accepted the internship position, and have been living in the country’s capital and working at the embassy here for a little over two weeks.  In the short amount of time I’ve spent here, however, I’ve had some unforgettable experiences, and the chance to speak at length with a number of interesting people from almost every imaginable sector of society.  This past weekend, I visited one of the many massive illegal gold mining installations in the jungle here with a group of students from Tulane University, who are here to study the environmental and health consequences of the mercury-heavy method of resource extraction used by the miners.  Last week, I joined the ambassador at a lunch with a number of local LGBT activists who are campaigning for some level of recognition—or at least protection—of their rights by the government.  The week before, I participated in a meeting between the ambassador and a widely-known and respected medicine man from a tribe in the country’s interior jungle region.  Beside these experiences, I have also had the chance to work on a number of issues of concern to both the embassy and to these members of the local community.  Indeed, at the moment my primary area of focus here at the embassy is on the issue of land rights for indigenous groups like that of the aforementioned medicine man, and I’m in the process of drafting a cable to be sent to the headquarters of the State Department in Washington D.C. detailing recent developments on this topic.

The interactions with locals and experiences I have had here so far have allowed me to see that a good number of assumptions that I had about the country and its people before I arrived here were way off-point.   A few examples: Suriname may indeed be located in South America, but it shares few characteristics with the other South American countries in terms of language, culture, and history;  Suriname does have a history of political violence and military governance, but you would never know it from the people here, who are among the most friendly and upbeat people I’ve encountered anywhere; the lingua franca here is not in fact Dutch, but rather Sranan Tongo, a uniquely Surinamese creole language that has a base primarily in English, but blends together elements of Dutch, Portuguese, and a number of African languages as well (everyone I’ve met here speaks it, from government officials to local university students);  everyone here also speaks English, the majority quite fluently.  This is all not to mention the current state of the country’s politics, which I won’t get into in this blog, but is quite interesting and you can read more about here.

A colleague of mine at the embassy provided perhaps the most apt characterization of the country that I’ve heard so far: “Suriname is a Caribbean nation not on an island, a South American nation that doesn’t speak Spanish or Portuguese, and a Dutch-speaking nation that would prefer that weren’t the case.” An obvious question arises from all of this: if Suriname indeed “isn’t” any of these things, then what is it?  Although I don’t have all the answers yet, I think that the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met here so far have helped me get a much better sense of what defines Suriname.

Studying Abroad 101

by Sami Briggs

Well, first off, I should amend the title of this post because at Cornell, we do not have any courses labeled 101. Cornell’s course catalog is so extensive that introductory level classes are labeled 1101. So, Cornell’s Psych 101 class is truly Psych 1101. But I digress. 

I came to Cornell in the fall of 2012 with what I thought was a very solidified plan of what I would and would not do during my days at Cornell. I will openly admit that the majority of my days thus far have been spent in ways that I never predicted, and I am thankful for those twists and turns that brought me to where I am today; I might not have expected to find my niche where I found it, but I have never been happier. My experience with planning my semester abroad has been no exception.

First, I thought that I would go to somewhere in central Europe such as Germany or Austria. As a History major I was fascinated by the culture and wanted to see the sights, hear the music, and enjoy the art of such cities as Berlin or Vienna. But…then I remembered that I do not speak a word of German, and I thought my semester abroad would be better spent in a place where I would be able to truly immerse myself in its culture. The College of Arts and Sciences has a language requirement for most study abroad programs for this reason, and with my lack of natural language skills, learning a new language was not a commitment I was willing to make.

After nixing central Europe, I decided that I would go to London. Half of my family lives in southern England, and since at that point in my Cornell career I had decided to concentrate my History studies in British imperialism, it seemed to be a logical destination (also, I may not speak German, but I am a pro at English). But then a conversation with a friend made me rethink my decision all over again. I had heard about the Cornell-in-Washington program before, but since I had already set my sights on Europe, I didn’t really consider it as an option. I gave it a second look when a friend told me she was considering the program and it took me all of five minutes to realize that the Cornell-in-Washington program was perfect for me; I major in Government as well as History and plan to work in government upon graduation, and this program allows me to take classes toward my major while interning in a government department or think tank. Cornell-in-Washington and I fit together beautifully, and I am beyond excited to study abroad domestic next semester and room with that very friend who helped me decide on Washington.

So, as you start planning out your own study abroad adventures, here are some tips and important facts that you should know about studying abroad at Cornell:

1. You do not have to go to Europe. Let me qualify that. Europe is a phenomenal place to study abroad; it is composed of unique and fascinating countries and has the delightful quality of being small enough that you can travel internationally with relative ease (especially within the Euro Zone, you don’t even have to change your money!) but, there are tons of other possible destinations, and you should explore them so that you can make a well-informed decision. A friend of mine who studies Animal Science spent last semester split between Kenya and Tanzania, studying wild animals in their natural habitat. Another friend who wants to become an attorney focused on social justice is spending this summer in New York City with Cornell’s Urban Semester Program (CUSP) with the Legal Aid Society. Another participated in the Semester-at-Sea program and spent the semester on a boat studying oceanography and traveling the world. Don’t let Europe be a default option, if you choose Europe, choose it for a reason! And don’t be afraid to look to other destinations.

2. You don’t even have to leave the country! The Cornell-in-Washington program is in Washington, D.C., the Cornell Urban Semester Program is in New York City, etc. The program that is right for you could be closer than you think!

3. Explore all of your options! Refer to tips #1 and #2.

4. The College of Arts and Sciences has a language requirement. As Cornell’s liberal arts college, the College has a language requirement for matriculation, and focuses on foreign language immersion for study abroad programs in countries where English is not the national language. If you are continuing the language you studied in high school, this is generally only two semesters of courses, but if you are beginning a new language, this generally amounts to more like five semesters of courses. Your adviser or dean might be able to help you find a way around this if this requirement becomes prohibitive, so, don’t fret!

5. There is no particular semester that you should go. You can go either semester your junior year, your first semester senior year, or even over a summer! While the majority of students will study abroad second semester junior year, you can and should choose whatever works best for you.

6. You can study abroad even if you major in the sciences. You will hear that it is more difficult to study abroad when majoring in the sciences due to the challenge of transferring credits, etc. But, where there’s a will there’s a way, and with some planning ahead it is absolutely possible to study abroad and still graduate on time.

7. Try not to let FOMO prevent you from going. You will find that Cornell is bursting at the seams with clubs to join, classes to take, places to go, people to meet, and opportunities to take advantage of; my sister put it best when she said she could spend four more years at Cornell and fill each day differently than she did the first time. I consistently feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do, so choosing to spend a semester away from my beloved Cornell was a tough decision. I knew that I would have immense Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), but, upon further reflection, it is still totally and completely worth it to spend a semester abroad.

8. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. This last piece of advice applies to more than just if/when/where you will study abroad; it applies to everything and should be thought of always. When you arrive at college, you are most likely 18 years old, and you are given the weighty task of choosing what you want to do for the rest of your life. What 18-year-old can say for certain that they know exactly what they want? This 20-year-old can’t even say that with complete confidence. Granted, I have a pretty good idea, and I had a pretty good idea at age 18, but one of the reasons I chose Cornell over the other universities to which I was accepted was for the freedom it would give me to change my mind. If I hadn’t been unafraid to change my mind, I never would have found the study abroad program that was right for me.

Happy traveling, and good luck!

To learn more about the Cornell in Washington program, please visit To learn more about Cornell Abroad, please visit

The CAPS Program: One of Cornell’s Hidden Gems

by Lauren Avery

Note: this blog post is about the China/Asia Pacific Studies program at Cornell. It is not about Counseling and Psychological Services. 

When I was a freshman, I (unofficially) changed my intended major at least four times. I entered Cornell as a linguistics major, then I was astronomy, then came government and pre-law, and I was even pre-med for about a week. Even though I was interested in all of these subjects, none of them were my passion, and this left me feeling frustrated and confused for a long time.

The truth is that my real, intense, gets-me-up-in-the-morning kind of passion is traveling. I wanted to study languages and explore different cultures,and my problem was that at first I couldn’t find a major that focused on an international experience.

It was by a good stroke of fortune that I began taking Mandarin Chinese my freshman year, and in my second year of Chinese class, I met several students who were CAPS (China/Asia-Pacific Studies) majors. A few months later, I declared a CAPS major myself, and I have not looked back since.

What exactly does a CAPS student study? The CAPS program is dual-faceted. On one hand, students study the history and development of Chinese-American relations, and on the other hand they study Mandarin; four whole years of Mandarin, in fact.

You should know that CAPS is special in several ways. First, it is a relatively new program and it is unique to Cornell, so it is truly an opportunity that cannot be found anywhere else. Second, it is very, very small. Each year is capped at around 20 students, and my year only has about 13. This means that you are getting really specialized, individualized attention from professors who are leaders in the field of Chinese-American relations. In fulfilling the CAPS requirements (which I will discuss later), I have never taken a course with more than 30 or 40 students. By the time they graduate, CAPS students are often very close to the other CAPS majors and to the CAPS professors as well.

Another exciting feature of the CAPS program – and one that really sealed the deal for me – is the study abroad requirement. All CAPS majors are required to spend two semesters abroad. The first semester is spent in Washington, D.C. with the Cornell in Washington program, and this usually occurs in the fall semester of the student’s junior year. Then, in either the spring semester of junior year or the fall semester of senior year, the student travels to Beijing, China, to live and study at Peking University. I’ll be leaving for my semester in Beijing in about two months.

The beauty of the CAPS study abroad programs is that they are very relevant to the program’s purpose. In both Washington and Beijing, CAPS students take CAPS courses from Cornell faculty, continue studying Chinese, and complete internships. In Washington last fall, I worked at the Department of Justice, where I learned about the nuances and procedures of the American political system. Also, all Cornell in Washington students (not just CAPS students) perform an independent research project on a topic of their choice. Many students then get their projects professionally bound and even published. I researched Chinese territorial disputes with other nations and how American public opinion affects official US foreign policy, and I was incredibly proud of the finished product.

CAPS is also unique in that it has relatively few requirements. Most required courses are taken in Washington, D.C. and Beijing. Besides that, CAPS majors must take just one gateway CAPS course and two CAPS elective classes, along with completing four years of Mandarin or testing out. This makes the CAPS curriculum especially flexible and adaptable. Many CAPS students pick up a minor or a double major (the most common being economics, government, and history). For me, I chose to use this space in my schedule to pursue a second language, and I began taking Arabic in addition to Chinese.

Even if CAPS isn’t for you, here is a word of wisdom from a student who was once very undecided about her major: there are so many wonderful academic opportunities at Cornell, and many of them may be under the radar, so be sure to dig!

To learn more about CAPS at Cornell, please visit

Finding a Community at Cornell

by: Corey Kaminsky

At Cornell we love to emphasize our “any person, any study” attitude.  It is a great descriptor of the university; just take a look at the list of majors offered. The list is long and diverse.  But the attitude expressed in our motto reflects more than just the academics here.

Unlike the rest of the Ivy League, Cornell is a large school, especially regarding the amount of undergraduates at each institution.  Our size is something people love to comment on.  When I mention Cornell, the conversation almost always drifts to something along the lines of “but don’t you feel lost at such a big school?” or “I could never go to such a large school; it is too impersonal.”  While it is tiring to hear these overused lines, I never get weary of explaining my perspective.

To me, Cornell is like a neighborhood.  It is a place where you know or recognize almost everybody.   Anyone else is someone you just haven’t met yet, but more than likely you know half of their closest friends already.  Like any town, there are groups of people who are particularly close. For example, we chemistry majors are a rather close bunch.  So are the students who make up the staff of Cornell Outdoor Education.  Each of these groups is a community built around a common interest, and each is full of people who are passionate about what they do, be it chemistry or rock climbing.

The sense of belonging at Cornell extends beyond just the groups that you are a part of on campus.  It comes from the rapport between the students and their professors who often enjoy discussions with students on topics both related and unrelated to the course.  As cheesy as it sounds, the professors here want their students to succeed and will go out of their way to help.  I’ve had professors add optional problem solving sessions to the course for any who need help, often using what little free time they have in order to do so.

Both the network of students and professors here create a sense of belonging on campus.  Even though it is such a large school, it is hard to feel lost.  Instead, with so many students and faculty, there is merely a larger network of support.

The Value of Cornell's Liberal Arts Education

by: Corey Kaminsky

I expected to miss a lot of people and things at Cornell when I left for my year abroad.

I have a great group of friends on campus that I do not talk to nearly enough while I am away.  There are the people who share my interests in the organizations and clubs on campus that I’m part of.  Then there are the lab groups, both current and past, where I have friends and mentors whom I joke with as I learn from them.  There is the campus, itself an ode to the natural beauty of upstate New York with the gorges which flank central campus and the hues of yellow and red during Fall which give way to the crisp snow in the Winter before at last yielding to the blossoms of Spring.

Saying goodbye as I left for my year abroad was hard, but rewarding nonetheless. The academic system where I am is rigid, with little choice as to which courses I take.  The system provides extreme rigor in a single chosen field but ignores the breadth that would be offered at university in the U.S.  I have always been a fan of the U.S. system of liberal arts and I enjoy debating its pros and cons.  I voluntarily chose to undertake my year abroad in the United Kingdom—where the university system permits a student only to study their selected degree subject—because I wanted a year of intensive study in biochemistry.  I got exactly what I wanted and have had a great time.

Yet, I miss having breadth and variety in my courses.  I miss taking courses in medieval studies, my minor.  I miss my distribution requirements which directed me to some of the most challenging but rewarding courses I had the fortune to take.  Simply, I miss the curriculum and course selection offered at Cornell that reflect my broad range of interests.

As I write this piece, I am trying to select my courses for when I return as enrollment is mere days away.  The process is not easy.  I have a few classes I must take for my major but otherwise I have a wide selection of courses, somewhere upwards of 2,000 different classes, to choose from.  As I sat perusing my options (Philosophy of Science?  Jews and the Classical Era of Islam? Intro to Chemical and Environmental Toxicology?) I realized just how much I miss the Cornell attitude of any person, any study.  I admit it’s not as though I sat at my computer and had an epiphany as I browsed, to be honest, I spend a lot of time on that website lazily perusing the wide selection.  I think a lot about the differences in the system here and at Cornell, even if these ponderings are vague.   Yet, actually having to condense my list of interesting courses from approximately thirty into a final set of five courses focused my meandering thoughts on the different academic systems.  In having to select a small number of classes that would maximize the breadth of my courses, I recalled how much I enjoyed my distributions at Cornell and just how important and challenging the selection of them is.

I am pleased with the courses I’ve selected for next Fall.  I have two advanced courses in my major along with a related graduate class to provide depth of knowledge in my chosen major.  My two chosen distribution courses are each cross-registered across a few departments.  Those two classes are affiliated with four different departments, yielding a broad range of perspectives.  Such a selection of courses is hardly unique.  I’ve compared with friends and all of us have wonderfully varied schedules, all providing the depth and breadth that characterizes the academics of Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences.  When I catch up with buddies when I get back to Cornell next August, our conversations will be punctuated with factoids from economics, art history, anthropology, math, and philosophy amongst other topics—all this from a group of chemistry majors.  I love being abroad but I can’t wait to return to Cornell, to those people, to that variety of subjects.