Elizabethtown College prides itself on its mission to develop students into leaders, both in their own communities and globally. While this goal is pursued in all departments and disciplines, the Study Abroad Office is a forerunner in promoting global citizenship. In order to cater to the student body, the office offers programs in all fields, in numerous countries, during all semesters and for varying lengths of time. Some of the most flexible programs run for just one to two weeks and many are included in classes as out-of-classroom learning experiences.
One of the most common reasons that people choose not to study abroad in college is price, making these short-term options even more appealing. Also, for those who have never traveled, one week away is less intimidating than the four to five months of a traditional study abroad. For these reasons, many feel that short-term study abroad provides more “bang for your buck,” but I beg to differ.
Both options come with their inherent advantages and disadvantages, but I believe that the experience available during a long-term trip cannot be matched during a shorter one. Having been fortunate enough to have experienced both, the similarities and differences are striking.
The most obvious difference is the amount of time one gets to spend in the country. During one-week trips, little more than an exhaustive circuit of the nation’s tourist attractions is accomplished. By the time you have overcome your jet lag, you find yourself on a flight back home. My journey to China felt this way, despite how much I enjoyed the trip. However, short trips like these often spark or further an interest that can be explored more throughout one’s college experience.
The second difference is the actual cost. In many cases, the price of a long-term trip and a short-term trip are equivocal. If one were to pay for the price of a one-week trip repeatedly for the fifteen weeks of a term, it is often more expensive than the price of a full semester. Despite that, scholarships are available for both and can be discussed with Study Abroad staff.
Finally, the most valuable experiences are often those that require knowledge and comfort in the country. But one cannot attain this immediately; it takes weeks, sometimes months to cultivate this relationship with the new place. This is difficult to manage in a short time. For example, my perfectly orchestrated trip to China went off without a hitch, and I fell in love with every aspect of the country. I ignored any downfalls, because they were outshone by tourist attractions and the novelties of first-time travel. I needed no concern for personal safety, because a watchful professor was taking care of that.
Two years later, in Morocco, I had the chance to succeed and fail, to see the beauty and the flaws, to meet and befriend a larger group of students, to effectively become a facet of the city, not just a tourist. While these happenings took time to appreciate, they are now the highlight of my trip. Whether I am telling my arrival story or expressing my street-crossing struggles or laughing about communication mishaps, it is always the “difficult” memories that I choose to share.
They were the transformative moments that I feel challenged me, dragged me out of my comfort zone kicking and screaming, forced me to learn hands-on and gave me the chance to meet some of the most amazing individuals I now know. During my two weeks in China, I spent my time starry-eyed, but learned little about myself. Though, I did have the great fortune to learn immense amounts about the history and culture of China, which I utilize daily.
Trips like these embody the idea that what you put into something, you get out of it. For this reason, the better program may depend on the person, but travel is the only thing you can buy that can make you richer. If you have the opportunity to study abroad more than once, take it, but I strongly encourage long-term study abroad while in college. It may be the only opportunity you has to travel for so long.
To truly engage the mission of E-town – to be an informed, global citizen – I feel semester study abroad is the most important step a student can take. It may be a step into a foreign situation, but as Neale Donald Walsch once said: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Please note: Staff writer, Samantha Weiss, originally wrote this article for The Etownian published on September 2, 2015. The Etownian is Elizabethtown College’s student newspaper. Click here to view the original article.