Earlier this week, Tehila Wenger wrote an article arguing for the need for students awarded study abroad or research grants to use their funding more responsibly. It is true, as Tehila wrote, that it is crucial for students to wisely use the money awarded them through generous grants. (It is probably difficult to academically justify spending Princeton money to “party in a nightclub in Tel Aviv,” however culturally enlightening.) It is possible that some Princeton students take advantage, sometimes unethically, of the various resources available to the University community. However, the need for students to spend grants wisely should not discourage them from contacting several departments to secure funds for study abroad or research.
This summer I was fortunate enough to have the University fund most of my study abroad experience in Brazil that lasted 10 weeks. During that time, I was enrolled in two Princeton classes, both of which guided me through understanding Rio — through its history, language, culture and, of course, futebol. However, I probably learned the most during my experience not inside the classroom, but outside, in the city itself. My most memorable experiences in Rio happened when I was exploring the city with my friends — through the beaches, rainforests, samba schools and, yes, even clubs. I learned the most through accidental experiences — those that were not described on my budget request form or class syllabus. In a foreign country, I find that organic experiences can offer much more than planned ones; keeping an open mind is part and parcel of living abroad. I fear that if Princeton starts to require more structured planning from its students who study abroad, they will lose part of the benefit of living in an unknown country.
Further, Princeton should have more opportunities for underclassmen to design their own study abroad programs. I sincerely applaud (and am incredibly grateful for) Princeton’s structured programs abroad, such as Global Seminars through PIIRS, all of the language-intensive programs, religious cultural trips and the International Internship Program. Some departments offer underclassmen the opportunity to travel abroad early on and gain intellectual maturity in preparation for discovering the direction of their independent work, such as the Program in Latin American Studies’ Sigmund Fellowship. The IIP does offer an opportunity for students to craft their own internship abroad, but securing funding for this can be quite competitive, especially for underclassmen. Consequently, Princeton does not have many opportunities in which younger students can design their own study abroad programs or internships. Studying abroad is such an important experience that has definitely changed the way I perceive Princeton, both academically and socially. On the most fundamental level, it gives students an idea of their course study, as well as a potential direction for their junior papers and senior theses. This is an incredibly valuable experience for younger Princeton students.
Though some might argue that Princeton students should wait to independently study abroad as upperclassmen, when they have gained more intellectual maturity, I believe that these sort of experiences can beneficially influence the academic paths of younger students. Hopefully, students will be able to study abroad and absorb everything they can, even in the most unexpected of places.
Elise Backman is a sophomore from Sea Bright, N.J. She can be reached at email@example.com
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/19/31145/