Monday, June 30, 2014

Friend of the Court - Studying Abroad

So, from the people at the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, I learned of the Judge John Hodgeman podcast, in which people present their arguments to, well, John Hodgeman for resolution.  I found one episode about a guy who wanted to go abroad for university and ultimately, he thought, to live, but his brother thought that was a lot of distance and money to put toward something that may not be to his liking after all.  Ultimately the brothers were both happy with the outcome, so while I am not really quibbling with the decision, I wanted to present some points on behalf of folks who have dreams of going away to school. 
In the interest of disclosure, I went to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, sight pretty much unseen.  It was not the only university I applied to, and it was not the only one I applied to I hadn't visited.  I was a DC resident, and, at the time, had no real state options (DC residents now have some refund options that return the difference between in and out of state tuition).  It was not the cheapest place I applied (there was Air Force Academy), but it was well in the middle.  I had watched video footage of the place, talked to recruiters (who, yes, have a bias), and I had traveled to other countries before.
Here are things that I can tell you.  College is a big deal.  It's a big change.  The bureaucracy always functions a little differently than you expect, the people are different, and to me it seemed immediately clear that I was expected to be quite a bit more in charge of myself.  This is going to be true no matter where you go. 
As I didn't end up attending anywhere I had visited, I can't speak to how much that would have helped.  St. Andrews provided an orientation for overseas students, there was also a week of intro to things like clubs and classes and such, so I felt pretty eased into the process.  I was in a small dorm where by the end of a few weeks I knew everyone's name, and I think that helped.  Another US student from near me, had taken his brother's advice to pick the dorm nearest his classes, which had a different vibe and he found his experience ultimately unsatisfying and transferred to a US college at the end of the year. 
But, I think that's pretty true of a lot of students.  It's hard to pick based on visits, or websites, or glossy brochures.  Sometimes you will pick well.  Sometimes you will decide to adapt or make it work.  And sometimes, you will find a better fit elsewhere. 
The podcast folks seemed particularly amazed at the idea that anyone would go so far to a place they'd never been for university.  And, I see what they were saying.  And the guy is a junior in high school so had time to possibly make some money to put towards a visit.  I don't mean to suggest that visiting is a bad idea.  But if he wanted to go to Florida for university I feel like no one would worry so much that he had no idea what he was getting into.  And yes, a different country is different.  More distance is different.  I had another classmate who ultimately took St. Andrews off her list, because she wanted to be able to get home in less than a day.
But, one friend of mine spent a lot of time being asked to provide cultural education to her classmate who was from a town about an our away from the university she attended, and so, he had never talked to a person of color before.  So, it isn't just distance that provides different experiences.  It isn't just the size of the town you are from or go to. 
Now sure, some people go to the same college that half their high school class goes to, and room with people they already know, and take classes with people they already know. So, the different-ness of college is muted a bit for them.  But college still is different.  I had the realization that none of these people knew who I had been in college and found that amazing.  It was true of teachers and professors as well as fellow students.  Had I gone somewhere I knew more people, that still would have held some truth. Teachers and professors don't get copies of the yearbook so they can figure out who their students used to be.  And even if half your high school class is there, there will still be new people and new experiences.  After all, that's the point.