The first weeks of a new semester are always rough. It’s difficult settling back into routines that seemed effortless before break, and getting used to being back on campus takes time, no matter how much we love it here. But for those students who spent the fall 2012 semester studying abroad, the readjustment can be even more unique. Street has the scoop on what it was like for two of these students.
Isabel Kasdin ’14 attended University College London this past fall. Kasdin said that she has found it effortless to slip back into the old routines of her life at Princeton. She explained, “It’s been a little weird, but, honestly, nothing has changed really. I sometimes forget that I was living in London so recently. You have to remind yourself that you were gone. I would say that I’ve been a little overwhelmed work-wise, since I was less busy at UCL. But I think it would have been harder to come back for fall term, just because now I can slip right into Princeton life.”
Although the transition back to Princeton was simple for Kasdin, there were some adjustments she had to make while studying abroad, particularly academic ones. “The academic system [at UCL] was probably my biggest culture shock,” she said. “There are very few contact hours. You might have just one hour-lecture a week for 10 weeks, and that’s it. And then they give you this syllabus with pages of suggested readings for each lecture. You sort of just have to look through and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to read this one and that one.’ So it’s a lot of self-directed study, and it is quite easy to slip through the cracks.” Despite the lack of structure, Kasdin said she doesn’t regret the experience at all and would “highly recommend it to anyone.”
When asked what she liked best about the experience, Kasdin emphasized the people she had met and the friendships she was able to form. She said, “London is just a really cosmopolitan city, which was cool. But I think the best part was that I got to meet people from all over the world.”
It was one of the first times that Kasdin was able to experience being an international student, as well as what it means to come home. She explained, “I actually live in Princeton, so this was the first time that I was finally getting away from home and living more independently. It was the first time that I really got to experience packing and the excitement of coming home. I remember when the plane touched down and I knew I was on my way back to Princeton, and I just thought that the feeling of homecoming was the best feeling in the world.”
Though she’s glad to be back, Kasdin is incredibly pleased with her decision to have studied abroad. Many students hesitate at the idea of spending an entire term away from Princeton, and Kasdin acknowledged this, saying “You know, you go to the information sessions, and they say that before you go you’ll have a moment where you think, ‘How can I possibly leave,’ and you start to panic a little.” However, the information sessions also tried to convince students that they were making the right choice in studying abroad. Kasdin continued, “But then they also tell you that you won’t regret it. And that’s totally true. I had a great experience, and I would highly recommend it to everyone.”
Kashyap Rajagopal ’14 also went to England, but he attended Oxford University for the term. Rajagopal described his experience as “terrific.” He attributed this to new experiences and challenges. “Group classes were great opportunities to bond with one another and establish some core friendships. We also delved deep into a relevant topic of our choice (NHS politics for me) for our final projects.” Rajagopal also took classes that were one-on-one with his professor. “The tutorial system had me combing through the literature for the more salient arguments in international relations for a weekly paper and one-hour discussion with a subject expert. I was actively discouraged from reading everything on the reading list. For my diff-eq class, my professor did a great job explaining the tougher questions on the problem set.” The program wasn’t all about work, however. “Outside of class I got to try a lot of new activities I wouldn’t have normally: crew (our painstaking efforts fell a little short of quality), standing atop the Arc de Triomphe and making friends.”
While these unique and novel opportunities played a large role in Rajagopal’s experience, he noted that there were still many similarities between Oxford and Princeton. “I think, in both places, you’re going to find ridiculously ancient architecture and some very kind and thoughtful students. The professors also challenge you to think creatively, which is one of the most important parts of our academic experience, I’d say.” However, he continued, “That said, the typical student M.O. is quiet and refined (so maybe not as outgoing) with a slightly more mellow sense of humor — so the general U.K. stereotypes weren’t totally inaccurate. But rest assured, these kids know how to have fun during the ‘bops.’ ” “Bops,” Rajagopal explained, are what we might call “ragers.” It seems that our fellow students across the pond can party just as well as us, though they may have a cooler name for it.
It’s the people that Rajagopal will miss the most. He notes “really strong friendships” as one of the key aspects of his term abroad and worries that, here at Princeton, he may not be able to keep them up. “I’m not sure we have that time now because it’s harder to find those large blocks of time on campus.” Despite this one regret, he is still excited “for the short walks from class to class. There, classes and food were 30 minutes away from where we were housed, [the traveling was a] time suck, and [I’m looking forward to] wasting time at my favorite spots on [Princeton’s] campus.”
Returning to Princeton carried mixed feelings for Rajagopal: “It was great meeting family and friends back in Princeton — but readjustment felt funny originally. I was traveling a lot in my final weeks abroad, and after an exciting adventure, my business-as-usual life at Princeton felt a little lacking; that’s the bittersweet feeling that comes with familiarity. Basically, amplify the feeling you get when a good movie hits the credits. It’s additionally weird because Princeton was neither completely familiar nor completely new.” The best part of coming back was, according to Rajagopal, “probably just reconnecting with friends.” He seemed to agree with Kasdin that there was a lot to be said for the comfort of Princeton, concluding, “Even though there’s a lot to miss, normalcy can be refreshing.”
Both Kasdin and Rajagopal are grateful for the opportunity to study abroad and for the classroom and culture experiences and the friendships gained through both. At the same time, it’s nice to know that as exciting as the rest of the world may be, Kasdin and Rajagopal were still happy to return to their Princeton home.