Because I Went Abroad

Study Abroad 2015-2016

Jess Li '17

Because I went abroad I know that being spontaneous and not having a plan is okay. I have always depended on routine for comfort and stability but my semester in Barcelona showed me that the best experiences come from a willingness to let go, get lost in a new place, and lose track of time. Without a plan, you can fully immerse yourself in the moment without any external pressure of things you need to do or places you have to be. These experiences also counterbalanced the fast pace of life at Harvard to create the balanced college experience I was looking for. With this new perspective, I feel excited and ready to take on and enjoy senior year. In a somewhat paradoxical way, I believe that leaving for a semester gave me the ability to get the most out of my time at Harvard.

-Jess Li '17, Human Evolutionary Biology, CASA Barcelona

Hannah Leverson '17

Because I went abroad, I trust myself and others more. This past spring, I dived headfirst into the Parisian world. My mantra was, “Your time in this place is limited,” and I explored Paris and Europe according to that. I discovered the city on a shoestring, following guidance from my host mom, friends, program administrators, and the Internet. Fortunate to travel through other European cities, I met open and friendly internationals. One Airbnb host in Cologne, Germany sticks out in particular. He spent his day with my friend and me preparing a traditional German potato dish and having a beer tasting in his kitchen. My friend and I actually think he may have spent more money entertaining us than we paid him for housing. Joost’s warm welcome was hardly the exception to what I encountered elsewhere. I was able to meet and trust other people because I trusted myself. Taking on new cities requires a certain comfort with discomfort, and a street savvy that marks the difference between the two. I was surprised to see how much my resourcefulness was put to the test over last semester. Now I know what I’m capable of, and how much other people are willing to help.

-Hannah Leverson '17, Human Evolutionary Biology, CIEE Paris

Jamie Piltch '17

Because I went abroad, I realized how amazing it is to release myself from the pressure I felt (and sometimes still feel) to be constantly achieving and working. I have never spent more time exploring instead of doing work than when I was in London. When I went to London I had such fear of missing out on things and on giving up leadership opportunities. What I found out, however, was how freeing it was to forget these things. I also loved being immersed in another culture that has a different approach to school--knowledge for the sake of knowledge--where grades mean much less (everyone gets basically the same grade). Such an experience has made me think really critically about how I can preserve those values while still striving to be the best that I can. If given the opportunity, I would study abroad again ten times out of ten.

-Jamie Piltch '17, History and Literature, University College London 

Ellen Jang-Milsten '18

Because I went abroad, I encountered many new experiences and outlooks on life that made my life perspective change. I knew the rest of the world thought much differently than me and my peers, but never having been abroad I couldn’t fully grasp how different their culture and mindset is. While I was in Russia, I was surrounded by a drastically different perspective on the world and that opened up my own level of acceptance and understanding. During my time abroad, I was exposed to ways of thinking that I didn’t always agree with, but knowing how their lives differ from my own, I was able to empathize with their ideas. After living in such a different culture, I returned home viewing life, and the people around me, much differently. Maybe I wouldn’t always agree with what my peers did or said, but I’ve found I’d rather try to understand them and communicate with them than shut their ideas out. My time in Russia opened up my views on life and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

-Ellen Jang-Milsten '18, Philosophy, Bard in St. Petersburg 

Humberto Juarez Rocha '17

Because I went abroad I became enamored with Argentina. For the past five and a half months here in the country of las Pampas, I have had a full spectrum of experiences and I still find myself intricately connected with the culture here. I had studied and researched about Argentina in courses at Harvard and while this is where my original interest came from, living and studying here has made a world of a difference in my academic and professional aspirations. I would not have been able to experience this had it not been for Harvard’s spectacular study abroad assistance. I receive almost full financial aid from Harvard and the fact that this help goes into the study abroad financing is an opportunity that cannot go unexperienced. And although I am ready for my last and final year in college, Argentina will always have a beloved spot in my heart, one that will surely need its dose of alfajores fulfilled in the near future.

-Humberto Juarez Rocha '17, Social Studies, CASA Argentina

Annie Lin '17

Because I went abroad, I learned how to take time to set my own priorities and goals again. No person can deny that Harvard’s an incredible place. That is what often keeps students from studying abroad; they simply don’t want to leave Harvard for a second. However, no student can deny that school can also be incredibly draining. I left Harvard after several semesters of scrambling between psets, club meetings, and nighttime office hours. It was hard to clearly reflect on what I was doing because so many things were happening at once. Studying in Budapest allowed me to appreciate a new pace of life. My classes were still challenging, but being in another country forced me into a mindset of taking advantage of every moment. I had more time to distinctly pinpoint my goals instead of being consumed by the daily drum of work.

-Annie Lin '17, Computer Science, AIT Budapsest 

Emily Wang '17

Because I went abroad, I was able experience an opportunity that nowhere but Harvard could have provided me. After spending two full years at Harvard, I felt as though I still hadn’t taken full advantage of being a full-time student and having the ability to travel and meet new people in a completely different cultural setting. While being at Harvard itself has exposed me to so many great people, it was easy to get caught in the “bubble” of academic and extracurricular stress without stepping back to appreciate both the place I come from and how many other places there are to explore. Going to London and traveling to other countries such as Belgium, Spain, and Portugal helped me realize how incredible it was to be able to learn so much about different cultures, histories, and (of course) foods. After finishing the fall semester, I couldn’t wait to come back and tell all my friends at school about it, and also couldn’t wait to hear about what new experiences they had while I was away.

-Emily Wang '17, Economics, University College London

John Bourjaily '17

Because I went abroad, I gained both self-confidence as well as humility. Having to spend two hours a day on the public transit system gave me the faith in my own abilities to navigate a society without being able to effectively communicate in the same language. Being able to travel across Europe, at times by myself, bolstered my sense of self-reliance. I felt comfortable traveling to unfamiliar cities where they spoke unfamiliar languages and paid for unfamiliar food with unfamiliar money. From studying abroad, I know that I can handle myself in daunting situations much better than I thought I could. At the same time, I also learned humility from these same situations. For each time that I coolly breezed through a Danish train station, there was a time when I had to ask a passerby in a combination of broken Czech, Russian, and English, which metro line I needed to take to get to my destination. I had to overcome my pride and admit when I really did not know what was going on and how to communicate that to someone in a language I do not know well.

-John Bourjaily '17, Government, DIS Copenhagen

Panchi Simeto '17

Never would I have imagined that living in Barcelona would have resulted in me relating on a much deeper level with my family that lives in South America. But being immersed culturally and academically in an environment where I was speaking my native tongue and unapologetically pursuing my passions gave me the confidence to challenge notions of my identity and return to Harvard committed to discovering new facets of our school. Once you go abroad, you realize it's never too late to learn something new about yourself and your environment.

-Panchi Simeto '17, Economics, CASA Barcelona

Jeewon Lee '18

Because I went abroad, I was able to step outside the “Harvard bubble” and re-discover the things that really mattered to me, both inside and outside Harvard. Learning how to live in a new country challenged me to be more in touch with myself and be completely comfortable being on my own. In order to fully explore and appreciate China, I had to step out of my comfort zone, both mentally and physically(!!). From this, I learned skills that I consider valuable in both academic and social settings: how to accept change, how to adapt to completely new environments, and how to understand reasons behind different behaviors and principles without quickly judging others or holding my view as superior to theirs. After my experience abroad, I feel more ready to navigate Harvard when I return to campus.

-Jeewon Lee '18, Government, Alliance for Global Education: Shanghai

Conor Bent '18

Because I went abroad, I broke free from the blind march towards a vague idea of success. Letting go of leadership positions in on-campus organizations undeniably challenged my identity. This coupled with leaving the ivy adorned confines of Harvard Yard made me realize how much I used these statuses as a crutch. Going to this profoundly inspiring school enabled me to hide behind the moniker of being a Harvard student. I began to see that it had become increasingly difficult to define who I was outside of the typical sound bite you tell people on campus. Titles and GPAs became more important than living my life. Thus, studying abroad was at first an enormously disorienting experience as I challenged who I am outside of these labels. I was confronted by how much I still have to learn about myself. Being alone in uniquely challenging situations halfway across the world brought me into an unmediated experience with myself. Through profoundly stimulating classes, a fulfilling internship, and extensive traveling, studying abroad concretely freed me from this desperate desire to live my life for a handful of lines on a resume.

Conor Bent '18, English, CIEE Prague: Central European Studies 

I spent 8 continuous months studying in Italy, first at a summer study abroad program in Genova, then at the University of Bologna for the fall semester. Since I was young, I had always dreamed of becoming fluent in Italian, and studying abroad, I now realize, was the only and best way I could have ever made that dream into a reality. But how does one really learn a language? I found that it was all about being stubborn. Since most Italian students have learned some English and were eager to practice, I was frustrated when people would approach me and speak in English. So, I made the decision to only respond in Italian, no matter how incorrect the sentences were at first; after a while, everyone I knew was speaking to me in Italian. In really committing myself to learning the language, I rediscovered the importance of learning a second language itself, as it is truly a powerful tool and the best and only way by which two different people, nations, or cultures can begin to understand one another.

— Dana Ferrante '17, History and Literature, Brown in Bologna, Italy

Because I went abroad, I am so much more confident in my ability to handle unfamiliar and unexpected situations. Studying in London and traveling through Europe solidified my ability to function on my own, to feel comfortable in a new academic and social setting, and to appreciate the overwhelming beauty of unexplored (and thus, potentially intimidating) cities and cultures. While I can't say that I've gotten the "travel bug" out of my system, I do know that if I hadn't studied abroad, I wouldn't feel as fulfilled or as happy as I am now. (And I definitely wouldn't have been able to enjoy as much amazing food as I did ‪#‎fishnchipsplease‬.)

— Elizabeth Jiang '16, Sociology, University College London

Because I studied abroad, I now know who I am, what I like, and who I want to become. My study abroad experience in Cuba helped me set my priorities and interests straight. It cleared my mind of self-doubts and opened my eyes to see in my education an end other than a lucrative career. The classes at the University of Havana renewed my faith and interest in social science and philosophy. Cuban society as a different and unique paradigm of socio-economic development taught me that education, healthcare, and equality need to be the priorities of any society. It taught me the true meaning of humanity, and that changed my life.

— Daniel Martinez '17, Social Studies, Harvard College Program in Cuba

Because I went abroad, I learned that you can't force adventure, but that you should never turn down opportunities—the opportunities we have in this time and place!—out of fear or some nebulous concept of success. When I left Harvard, I wanted to change the world, but in Morocco, I thought that the best thing I might be able to do, was to learn all the world's languages and cookie recipes, and to teach scone—and paper crane—making. There, I understood Old Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle: "When you're old, all you want to do is stare at the scenery. It's so strange. I've never felt so peaceful before." Now, I'm not sure if I do. Now, social science still fascinates me, but I trust the humanities more. Most of all, I learned how important family is. I learned how integral people and place are to the concept of self. You're not going to "find yourself" abroad, nor at home. You just keep changing.

Siobhan McDonough '17, Social Studies, SIT Morocco: Migration and Transnational Identity

Because I went abroad, I know that I can breathe. Being on campus for nine months a year can feel suffocating at times, but pushing myself to go abroad forced me to learn how to be myself and figure out what is important to me. Being abroad for a semester exposed me to new ideas, people, and experiences away from the comfort and familiarity of campus. I felt uncomfortably invigorated at times, in ways that pushed me to think outside the box. I learned how to be comfortable with myself, and I was reminded that at the end of the day I just have to keep breathing.

Madhavi Narayanan '17, South Asian Studies and Government, SIT IHP Human Rights (Nepal, Jordan, and Chile)

Because I went abroad, I have a better understanding of how I want my future to look like. Studying in Amman, Jordan, helped me realize that I want to live in the Middle East after graduation and that I do have the skills necessary to live alone in a foreign country. I love adventure, but studying abroad challenged me in a way I did not think was possible. In the end, these challenges made me more capable of succeeding in the world outside the Harvard bubble. I can't imagine having spent part of my junior year anywhere else than Jordan.

— Selena Rincon '17, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, SIT Modernization and Social Change, Jordan

Because I went abroad, I rediscovered the joy of learning for learning's sake. I was fully engaged in my classes and therefore enjoyed my academic experience. I loved discovering different boroughs in London, visiting museums, and participating in walking tours of the European cities I visited. I also got to experiment with cooking. Most importantly, I had time to learn about myself because I went abroad. My experience was freeing and I would choose to go abroad over and over again if given the chance.

— Marthe Laetitia Tiani Vessah '17, Sociology, University College London

Because I studied abroad in Cuba for a semester, my Spanish skills have improved and I'm much more confident speaking Spanish around my peers. I was able to learn so much about Cuban culture and history in such a short amount of time (both in and out of the classroom!). It also gave me time to reflect on what's important in my life and come back to Harvard rejuvenated. Plus, by going abroad, I was able to save money and have an unforgettable experience in the process.

— Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez '17, Sociology, Harvard College Program in Cuba

Follow the links to read the previous installments of the "Because I Went Abroad..." series, featuring 2014-2015 and 2013-2014 study abroad students.