Colgate Study Groups: Full Disclosure

 

 

Jaime Coyne

When you return from studying abroad, you get bombarded with people asking how your experience was. I tell people I loved London, because I did. But I also say it be­cause it is the easy answer that people are expecting to hear.

I loved London so much, I’m tempted to pick up my life and move there. I loved living in the middle of everything, a walk or Tube ride away from more things than I would possibly have time to see during my time there. I loved living in a flat and trying out foreign groceries (picking out a different candy bar each week is a cul­tural experience, right?). I loved wander­ing through museums, exploring different parks, following Mrs. Dalloway’s walk and finding Little Dorrit’s prison.

Being in London also gave me the op­portunity to travel to other parts of Eng­land and the UK, and even to visit other European countries. As someone who’d basically just visited Montreal a few times, studying abroad quite literally opened a new world to me. From the ancient bath­houses of Bath to the cliffs of Wales to the vibrant “plazas” of Madrid – suffice it to say I had the time of my life.

Additionally, the Colgate English pro­gram in London offered some amazing classes that I can’t imagine finding on any other program. We had a “history of Lon­don” class in which one of our two class meetings each week was a walking tour around a specific part of London. I thought these tours were a great way to get to know London that we wouldn’t have had other­wise. For our theater class, we got to see a different play every week, which was really exciting, considering that theater (theatre, actually) is as big a deal in London as it is in New York City.

However, as amazing as my study abroad experience was in all these ways, I would not recommend that particular Colgate program to a friend. I felt that I needed to apply to Colgate programs, be­cause I had heard that it was a huge hassle to get Colgate to allow you to go on a non-Colgate program, and even more dif­ficult for Colgate to accept credit for any of these classes abroad.

I can’t personally confirm to what ex­tent this is true, but I think it widely was and still is the opinion of Colgate students. By going abroad on a Colgate program, I could ensure that Colgate would approve my program and give me credit for all my classes.

I didn’t realize how completely bizarre my program’s setup was until I was in London, trying to explain how it worked to friends, family and the occasional British person. Everyone on the Colgate program lived together and only had classes with each other, taught by a Colgate professor. Our flats were not on a college campus, and our classes were in no way associated with any British university. We rented a room in a building to use as a classroom. Even this building didn’t serve as any kind of physical “college.” The rooms were filled with groups from other, mostly American, universities, each renting a single classroom and serving as an independent unit. Thus, our group was isolated within a huge, live­ly city, with no real outlet to meet other people. While I have heard wonderful things from other Colgate study abroad groups about how close everyone became, my group did not have a particularly strong bond.

In a setup in which we only really had each other, this was disheartening. I did most of my exploring in London, and all of my trips to other countries, by myself. While it’s empowering to be able to say I went on a 10-day trip to three foreign cities all by myself, and nice to be able to make snap decisions rather than compromise with other people, I think the downsides are pretty obvious, as well.

There are a lot of things that, just be­cause you can technically do them alone, doesn’t mean they’re particularly funthat way.

Another aspect of why I chose a Col­gate program was cowardice. Going abroad with a group from Colgate seemed much less scary than inserting myself as an in­ternational student at a British university. In retrospect, going to a university would have opened up the potential for me to meet all kinds of new people and make friends, whereas on my Colgate program I was constrained to a group of 15 Colgate students (about 40 students overall, from the three different London study groups).

Maybe the Colgate English group was exactly what some people were looking for in their study abroad experience. But to me, it felt like a very tight Colgate bubble moved to a new setting, minus the outlet of clubs and organizations.

I think if Colgate were to organize this program so that students were somewhat integrated into a British university, it would greatly enhance the study abroad experience. At the very least, informa­tion sessions and interviews for applicants should stress the setup of the program, so that students are fully aware of what they are signing themselves up for.