Category Archives: Study Abroad

London, England: Looking Forward

In the last post of the year, junior Meredith guides us through how she came to decide to study abroad in London next semester. Thank you all for following our blog this year, and happy holidays!

By Meredith Chagares ’19, History major, Business and Law & Society double minor

Next semester, I will be studying abroad in London through the Hansard Scholars Program. This program consists of two classes taken through the London School of Economics and an internship at the Parliament. As a history major interested in politics and international relations, and their influence on the economy, I am extremely excited to begin the program in January!

I chose to study in London primarily because of my great interest in England’s history. In addition, I was attracted by London’s role as a financial and political hub of not only England, but also Europe and the world. My decision to study in London was ultimately confirmed after I spoke with upperclassmen and alumni about their experiences in London and the different programs through which they studied. Hearing their stories helped me to make an educated decision about where I would be able to enrich my education the most effectively.

While abroad, I will be visiting Edinburgh, Scotland and Cardiff, Wales with the Hansard Scholars Program. I also plan on taking research trips to other parts of Europe, such as Berlin, to begin research for my senior honors thesis. After I created a list of places that would be helpful to visit for the thesis, the Cornell Abroad office guided me toward the safest and the most financially effective ways to get around Europe.

Although I am a little nervous to travel and live in Europe on my own, the Cornell Abroad office has made me feel extremely comfortable with my upcoming adventure. They provided me with opportunities to meet and communicate with other Cornell students studying abroad in the United Kingdom. Additionally, the Resident Advisor for Cornell, who lives in London and acts as support for students, visited Cornell and gave a helpful presentation on tips and tricks for studying abroad. I know that I will miss Cornell next semester, but I am extremely grateful that the College of Arts and Sciences has given me the opportunity and support to immerse myself in a different culture and have an adventure of a lifetime!

Sevile, Spain: No me ha dejado

This week, senior Samantha tells us about her challenging yet incredibly rewarding five months in Sevile, Spain, through which she learned to embrace the uncomfortable. 

By Samantha Cohen ’18, Sociology major, Business minor

Learning a new language is difficult. And for deaf people, it is very difficult. That is why it was a bit surprising to my parents, and even myself, when I officially decided to spend the Spring semester of my Junior year studying abroad in Seville, Spain.

Me, my roommate and my host-mom Rosario.

For hearing people, learning a new language can be like learning the lyrics to a new song that you hear on the radio. For the hearing-impaired, we have to pause the music and practice the words one by one. We are always struggling to capture the words while they run away from us. It requires a lot of time and energy. To say the least, it is a complex process, and on occasions, very frustrating.


The students of CASA Sevilla program.

I had been studying Spanish for six years throughout my middle- and high-school years. However, when I came to Cornell as a student in Arts and Sciences, studying the language became less of a chore and more of a skill of which I could be proud. In just three semesters, I saw more progress in my language development and understanding than I had seen in the past six years combined. I was scared yet ready to take the ultimate leap of faith: to study and live with a family in Spain.

Me and my friend Liza (also Cornell ’18) in front of the aqueducts of Segovia.

Along with ten other Cornell students, I arrived at the city of Seville and started what would become five months of classes at the Universidad de Sevilla. This entailed meeting with new friends for a mid-day “café con leche,” watching Spanish Jeopardy with my host-mom Rosario, taking long bike rides through Parque María Luisa, and eating more oranges than you could possibly imagine (Seville is known for its orange trees!). I travelled to other cities in Spain to see the aqueducts of Segovia and the famous Gothic cathedral in Toledo, which I had learned about during the first week of my Spanish Art class. I spent three days on my own in the Northern Basque country and then flew out to meet up with three Cornell friends from my program to relax and eat paella on the beaches of Valencia.

Me during the Feria de Abril festival. ¡Olé!

I won’t say my semester was an easy one. I had my fair share of awkward moments with the host-mom because I couldn’t understand her jokes. I spent countless hours hungry waiting for the clock to read 9:30pm – the typical dinner time in Spain – to eat dinner. I failed my first exam. I got lost navigating winding cobblestone streets with no access to Google Maps.

But all in all, I would not change any of the experiences I had during my semester abroad. It was the challenges, both academic and emotional, that made those five months incredibly rewarding. I gained a new family. I learned to laugh when I mishear something. I learned to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Although I’m happy to be back on Cornell campus for my senior year, I routinely browse through my photos and keep up WhatsApp conversations with my Spanish family. As the people of Seville would say, “No me ha dejado” (It has not left me).

Oxford, England: Cultivating Knowledge for the Sake of Knowledge

This week, senior Arlinda takes us to England, where she was able to expand her study of philosophy through courses and professors at the University of Oxford.

By Arlinda Shehu ’18, Philosophy and Psychology double major

Punting on a sunny afternoon at Cherwell River.

During the Fall 2017 semester, I was a visiting student at St. Anne’s College at the University of Oxford. As a philosophy major, there were two reasons why I wanted to study abroad at Oxford. First, boasting a long and rich history, Oxford is an unparalleled institution at which to study philosophy. Second, Oxford is home to a unique teaching system called the tutorial system. Tutorials are generally one-to-one, and at most three-to-one, weekly meetings with your tutor (professor) during which you discuss assigned readings and your essays in a relaxed setting (I met with my teachers in their home office at times). This system, unique to the University of Oxford and only a small handful of other schools, meant that I would have the chance to engage in more in-depth and personal conversations and debates with professors – an experience different from those common at American universities. My utmost wishes came alive thanks to Cornell’s long and strong relationship with Oxford.

A view of the Radcliffe Camera library atop the St. Mary’s tower.

Studying at Oxford – and more broadly in England – for 6 months meant that all of Europe was at my feet to explore easily and cheaply. However, even if I had never left Oxford, there would have been enough to keep me occupied for months: from college formal halls (fancy dinners where everyone dresses up), punting on the river and rowing events inter-college balls, 99 libraries to explore, pubs that Bill Clinton and J.R.R Tolkien had visited, and finally to Harry Potter filming locations.

Me and other visiting students pose for a group photo before heading off to St. Anne’s Specturm ball. I am in the red dress!

Oxford was undoubtedly a fun place to be, but it came with its fair share of hard work. Tutorials were intense and our reading lists were long. The focus was on self-directed and self-motivated studying. Since students do not get graded and none of the exam grades actually count (only ones taken during the final year do), the focus was less on grades and GPAs, but rather on cultivating knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I could study as much or as little as I liked, which was both a freeing and dangerous situation. I learned that I like working on my own, doing my own research, and do not need a lot of supervision to do well. Six months in this intellectually stimulating environment in which I had to keep my own self in check – a preview of graduate school work – helped me realize that I could thrive in such an environment and that I would like to pursue a PhD in philosophy.

A Year Abroad: Making the Leap from Cornell to Catalonia

December is here! This month, Ambassadors will be writing about their experiences studying away from campus in Spain and the United Kingdom. Senior Hadassa starts off by giving us a taste of her year abroad in Barcelona.

By Hadassa Jakher ’18, Government and Spanish double major, International Relations and Law & Society double minor

The breath-taking scenery of the Catalan city, Cadaqués, in the Costa Brava.

My decision to study abroad was monumental, and pretty daunting. Was I really going to pack up my things and leave behind everything and everyone for an entire year? At first, I hadn’t really planned on it. In fact, I hadn’t planned to major in Spanish, much less spend more time abroad. I had already fallen in love with Spain the summer after my freshman year through the Cornell in Madrid program, but I still felt a lingering taste for adventure. After going back and forth countless times, I finally decided to ignore my apprehensions and just take the plunge. I am so glad I did, because it was one of the highlights of my university experience.

The Cascada Monumental of the Parc de la Cuitadella, just a short walk from my flat and right across from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

From the many programs in various cities across Spain, I had settled on the Consortium of Advanced Studies Abroad (CASA) in Barcelona, which brought together students from different universities across the U.S. The structure of CASA added greatly to the quality of my experiences abroad. I was excited to live in a student flat in the innovative 22@ district (rather than in a home-stay) because of its proximity to the city center, beach, and the university. The program had three wonderful advisors that helped with every aspect of studying abroad, from transportation to choosing classes to adjusting to the slower Catalan pace of life.

My attempt at making traditional Valencian paella!

One of the great things about CASA was that it provided plentiful opportunities for me to immerse myself into the culture of Catalonia and Spain. Before classes at the university began, the program held a short seminar course that taught us some basic Catalan and helped brush up on our Spanish, as well as giving us some context on the history and political atmosphere of Catalonia. We even participated in a cooking class to try our hand at making typical Spanish and Catalan dishes such as paella, gazpacho, pa amb tomàquet, and crema catalana.

The interior of Gaudí’s yet-to-be-completed architectural masterpiece, La Sagrada Família.

In addition, each semester was centered around a particular theme that deepened our familiarity with the Iberian Peninsula, packed with weekend excursions. During the fall, we focused on modernism, Pablo Picasso, and his influences. Our first trip was just outside Barcelona where we visited the abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat which boasts a wonderful collection of modern and avant-garde paintings as well as stunning mountainous views. We took a weekend trip to the Costa Brava to see Salvador Dalí’s home, Portlligat, in Cadaqués and the Dalí Theater-Museum in Girona. We also spent a weekend in Madrid, the capital of Spain. We took tours of the impressive Prado and Reina Sofia museums, the latter of which boasts Picasso’s Guernica. In the spring, we looked at the ancient ruins and the impacts of the Roman rule in the Peninsula. We visited Tarragona in the Costa Duarada region of Catalonia, the oldest Roman settlement in the Peninsula, and saw the ancient ruins of a great amphitheater near the sea. We also took weekend trips to Valencia and Lisbon, and saw the architectural influences of the Roman Empire still present in the cities today.

The view across from Plaça d’Espanya: The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc and the Palau Nacional, which houses the National Musuem of Art in Barcelona.

I was even more deeply immersed into the Mediterranean culture through all of the activities in Barcelona. There was such a plentitude of museums (e.g., the Picasso Museum, the Museum of Design and the National Museum of Art), historical landmarks (e.g., the Sagrada Família, the Isle of Discord, the Montjuïc Castle), and entertainment (e.g., flamenco shows, beach discotheques, soccer games in Camp Nou) that I was constantly and actively engaging in la vida española. In addition, through CASA, I was able to select my courses from four different universities in the Barcelona. Besides my Spanish political science courses, I chose to take classes that would improve my Catalan so that I could speak both local languages. This opened up the number of courses I could take (since many were in Catalan) and helped me understand on a more personal level what I had learned about the political history of Catalonia.

Despite my initial hesitations to study abroad for a whole year, spending time in Barcelona wonderfully complemented my studies at Cornell. I had a first-hand experience learning about an entirely different culture, social-political structure, and lifestyle. Not only did I grow to appreciate and integrate myself into another culture, but I was also able to look at my own country – the United States – through a fresh, new perspective. When I came back to Ithaca to start my senior year, I had definitely changed. Not only had my Spanish vastly improved, but I also had a different way of approaching my courses. My immersive year in Catalonia showed me that I could apply what I had learned, both at Cornell and abroad, to prosper in an unfamiliar environment and to get out of my comfort zone. Now, other monumental decisions that I have to make no longer seem as daunting.

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

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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.