Raya Buensuceso ’17 traveled almost every weekend during her semester in Milan last year. “I went to Israel, Turkey, and Morocco. Then, of course, I went around Italy, and I went around Europe,” said Buensuceso, “I bought tickets to go to Brussels for $25 round trip. That’s cheaper than going to New York!”
The University offers many ways for its students to study abroad, and those who have done it say that they’ve never regretted their time away. They cite opportunities to travel, getting out of the Orange Bubble, and exploring new cultures as the primary benefits.
“My mentality was that I wouldn’t be able to live in a place like Europe for a prolonged period unless I studied there,” Buensuceso explained about her decision to study abroad.
Audrey Ou ’19 spent last summer in Greece studying “Culture and Counterculture in Ancient Athens” through the University’s Global Seminars program. Ou always knew she wanted to study abroad, but didn’t want to give up a semester at Princeton.
Yihemba Yikona ’17 chose to spend a semester in Chile. She explained, “Princeton is a great place. There’s a lot of opportunities here, but Princeton can’t give you every opportunity.”
Will Hinthorn ’18, a computer science major, spent this fall at Qinghua University in Beijing. He had already completed three years of Chinese at the University and decided that he wanted to fully immerse himself in the country by taking all of his classes in the language. “It was definitely a firehose kind of way of learning Chinese,” Hinthorn said, “but I think it was extremely rewarding.”
Yikona and Buensuceso both joined churches while abroad, which enabled them to meet locals outside of their programs. Yikona participated in a youth group and still talks to some of the friends she made there. Buensuceso, an international student from the Philippines, said she was surprised when she showed up at the church near her apartment and found that 80 percent of its members were of Filipino heritage.
Although Ou’s program was comprised entirely of Princeton students, Ou and her classmates still took full advantage of the opportunity to interact with others outside of their programs and live what they were learning. “We did trips practically every weekend,” said Ou, “I think there was only one weekend we were in Athens.”
Hinthorn commented that her class on the Cultural Revolution gave him a new lens through which to view the movement. “The professor had lived through it,” said Hinthorn, “The first or second lecture, he stood up and said ‘I know a lot of you are in the Communist party in this room, and I want to tell you I’m not afraid of you.’”
Yikona took advantage of the opportunity to live with two host families in Chile. She said that this part of the experience had its ups and downs, but allowed her to quickly improve her Spanish and gave her a support system when she first arrived in the country.
There were no other Princeton students studying in Chile that semester. “It was nerve-wracking at first,” she said, “but ended up being a positive challenge. It was cool to be forced to get to know other people.”
According to Ou, her time in Greece made her think about diversity at Princeton. She said, “There are a lot of little bubbles inside the Orange Bubble.” Her experience has inspired her to reach out more to her classmates, be more open minded in her interactions, and not get stuck on first impressions.
“It made me realize how many smart people there are out there,” Buensuceso said, “The study abroad experience is so much more enriching than another semester at Princeton.”
“It’s a very freeing time,” Ou said, “Everyone who can do it should do it.” Ou said that last year, she felt pressured to work towards a goal and have a set path she was following. Coming back, she said, “Grades don’t matter as much. It’s more about — am I enjoying this class? Is it challenging me? And is it different from anything else I’ve ever done?”
“After going to Chile, I felt like I had gotten to a place with my Spanish ability where I felt like I had good command of the language, freeing me up to take other language classes I was interested in,” said Yikona.
Most important, Yikona concluded, “When else can you move to a country just for four or five months, no strings attached?”