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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

View From the Top: Go away. Seriously.

Published: October 28, 2011
Section: Features

In my time at Brandeis, I have been a slightly cliche college student and have tried many new things. I have tested the waters in a wide range of clubs and academic departments; I have been to dozens of random student events, activities and performances; I have at least once read the entire way through every student paper and magazine (yes, my darling Hoot, I’ve even read the Justice). In short, I have attempted to be a good experimental Brandeisian. As I near the end of my college career, I can safely say that one specific decision unequivocally was the best I ever made: going abroad. It was such a good decision, I made it twice!

I spent fall semester of my junior year studying wildlife management and environmental conservation in Tanzania and Kenya. I then spent the summer before my senior year studying language and literature in Argentina. Aside from studying in these incredible and new places, I got the chance to live the cultures. My time in Tanzania and Kenya made it literally impossible for me to be sheltered anymore. Where else could I watch an eagle snatch lunch out of my friend’s hands while on safari? Or have class interrupted by birds chirping so loudly we couldn’t even hear the professor? Or have young children ask to hold my hand as we walked, even though I was a complete stranger? For my group of 28 American students, Thanksgiving meant watching our Swahili teacher take a machete to a couple of turkeys and then give them to us, still warm, to pluck and make edible. Never has a Thanksgiving meal been so gratifying.

When I returned to Brandeis after my first jaunt abroad, I went through such a degree of culture shock that all I wanted to do was go back to East Africa. I left sub-Saharan summer for New England winter. I left a country whose GDP is smaller than Harvard’s endowment for, well, Harvard’s neighborhood. I left a country with a Global Hunger Index of “serious” for the world’s leader in obesity. It took almost the entire semester for me to readjust to Brandeisian ways. It would be logical for me to have spent longer here at home, trying to live my life with my new broadened perspective. But no, instead I fled the country again, this time to Argentina.

My second experience abroad was on the opposite end of the spectrum from my first. I lived in the center of Buenos Aires, a city of 14 million people. When before I had been afraid of poisonous snakes biting my ankles as I walked through the tall grass to get to class, I was now afraid of getting hit by the very bus I had to take to get to the university. I used to be in awe of how vast and clear the sky was; now I was choking on the immense amount of cigarette smoke and car smog in the atmosphere. Although it was completely different, Argentina managed to add its own flair to my now expanding basis of knowledge and life-altering experiences.

Even after all my gushing about studying abroad, you still might be wondering how it impacted the little time I actually spent here at Brandeis. To explain that best, I’m going to (roughly) quote a moment from Admitted Students Day way back when I was an admitted student (that would be 2008 for all you non-math majors): “Brandeis can’t prepare you for every career you will have; no college can. But we can prepare you for the rest of your life. We can teach you how to truly think, how to problem-solve, how to communicate, how to actually work. We will challenge you. And we will teach you how to succeed.” Not only has Brandeis done this for me so far, but going abroad through Brandeis has helped me to expedite the process.

So if you take nothing else away from my foreign rambling, hear this: Go away. Leave, at least for a little bit. Then come back. Brandeis loves you and people here want you to get the most out of your time at college. I did that by leaving for a smidge, then coming home to good ol’ Waltham.