This whole college admissions process thing is really, to be overly reductive, a series of decisions: Do you want a big or small school? Urban, rural, or suburban? What’s the student body like? I’m sure there are many more questions percolating in everyone’s applying heads… Within my own traversal of these questions, however, I always had one answer: my junior year, I would be leaving whatever fine institution I attended.
Not permanently, of course, but study abroad was always a given for my undergraduate career. I grew up in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual household that heartily emphasized the experience of the multicultural. My father was born and raised in Germany, but has spent much time in Southeast Asia; my mother was born in Taiwan, grew up in upstate New York, and studied in Germany and Denmark; I was born in Deutschland, and have been lucky enough to have returned to my birth-country many times, to visit relatives in Asia, and grow up bilingually. It was always my expectation – probably from my middle school days, honestly – that I would embark on my own independent excursions come junior year in college.
Fast-forward to that junior year and all of a sudden, expectation had become reality, and a big decision awaited me. Where to??? I had fantasies of slurping noodle soup and finally learning Mandarin in China, sipping coffee in Rome, watching the sun dip and then immediately rise in Sweden… I even entertained Africa and South America and the thought of embracing complete de-familiarization.
Well, it didn’t help that Haverford offers about 60 programs in roughly 40 different countries, so many of these visions actually had the potential for enactment (all of these programs are also pre-approved so I didn’t have to worry about credit transfer or anything like that). And by that, I really mean that it is amazing that there are so many opportunities for study abroad – even if that means that the decision-making process takes a little bit longer. So for a while, a lot of programs swirled around in my head. Denmark, Switzerland, South Africa? I stressed about making the “right” decision. I talked with my family, friends, professors, and skimmed through program descriptions before finally came to a wonderfully specific criterion: my bilingualism is hugely important to me and I wanted to reaffirm my German fluency while I was abroad. That narrowed the field nicely to Freiburg, Berlin, and Vienna.
Even within my international imaginations, I had kind of written off Germany precisely because I already speak the language and feel at home there. I guess I was committing myself to at least some of that de-familiarization early on. Being able to re-evaluate and double back on some of those initial tendencies is important to any sort of decision-making process though. Trust your gut, but let your brain have some say too. So now I was committed to a language, at least.
Once I had sufficiently excited my relatives in Germany with the prospect of my being in or very close to the country, I did have to pick a specific program. That’s where I got into the nuance: Did I want a big city, or a small college town? How close do I want to be to my family? What classes does the program offer? When does this program actually take place?
Being able to digest options in this manner allowed for the distillation of exactly what I wanted from study abroad. I want to speak German, have easy access to, but not be right on top of my family, have the option of taking Literature, Sociology, and Education classes (in addition to stuff outside my major and minors), be able to travel easily, and make it back to the U.S. to see my Haverford friends graduate. Well, within that very specific rubric, the answer became very clear.
And now that I’ve made you read through a big blog post on big decisions, I’ll finally divulge; I am going to be spending my spring semester in the very beautiful Vienna! Seriously, look at this city:
It feels amazing to know where I’ll be next semester – to finally concretize those long-held hopes. That fulfillment comes from a decision-making process that can sometimes be stressful and a little scary. The college admissions process is like that too, but there is absolutely light at the end of the tunnel. My best advice in any big process, particularly college admissions, is to keep yourself and your interests firmly in the driver’s seat. You will receive a lot of information from a lot of people in this whole process; a lot of that information is illuminating and helpful, but making sure you champion yourself as you wade through all of that is essential for that ultimate feeling of affirmation.
I am unbelievably excited for my time in Vienna (and will now already promise blog posts from abroad!) and share in the anticipation and excitement of all my readers in the process of their own big decisions! You can do it!!