Juniors and seniors often search from coast to coast as they contemplate their many options to find their best-suited school. Year after year, Stuyvesant’s graduating class splits up into different directions, and heads towards many universities and futures. However, a select ambitious few take a risk and go the extra step to study abroad, which involves adapting to a new environment and living so far from home. Yet, it seems that the benefits often outweigh the risks, as going abroad provides a unique and unforgettable learning experience.
Studying abroad requires the open mindset of a student to commit himself or herself into an unfamiliar environment. It isn’t recommended for everyone, but it is encouraged for those who would like to apply them- selves to a new experience and learn something invaluable by the time they graduate. International colleges often have more leeway and freedom than domestic colleges.
Education is becoming global, and studying internationally is becoming a prominent choice of study for many Stuyvesant students. Even the College Office is beginning to realize this, as they become open to learning more information about international colleges to better answer questions students may have. And to those why are even the slightest bit interested, Stuyvesant students and alumni offer their own thoughts and experiences about studying abroad, and why they encourage it.
A Young adult, literally
Studying internationally meant a chance to stand on her own, to Stuyvesant alumnus Paula Tsvayg (’11), who now at- tends McGill University, in the Quebec province of Canada. “College was my chance to come into myself as a person, and to learn responsibility, which I could only do by forcing myself into a situation where I had no alternative. I went to the McGill Open House, and they stressed during the orientation that there was no handholding, and they’ve proven right. It’s almost been a year, but I cook my own meals, pay my own bills, and rent my own apartment,” Tsvayg said.
In addition, Paula expressed the fact that McGill, although small, resembled a very diverse community. “Quebec is like a country unto itself. I’ve met so many people here from all over the world, and just on my floor alone I have friends from Africa, Switzerland, Greece, and France. It’s like an international experience, and living in a francophone city is like living in Europe,” she said. Tsvayg also stressed the fact that the city Montreal was geared towards her age group, making McGill a favorable choice.
“Montreal is a safe place, but it’s very sociable as well. It’s a good city for people my age be- cause it’s full of young people,” she said.
Leaving the U.S. may seem daunting to some lifetime New Yorkers, but Tsvayg expressed that she only had to make minor adjustments to accustom to living in Canada. Other than filing for international documents and opening a separate phone and banking account, there was little to adjust to, aside from a few pronunciation changes. “The only downsides I’ve experienced here is that sometimes I have a hard time comparing myself to friends who stayed in America because rubrics are a little bit skewed, and there’s less pressure to pad my resume, which worries me. The other thing is the exchange rate, which is always fluctuating,” she said. In terms of distance, a commute home from McGill is around the same as that from universities upstate New York. Tsvayg travels home by bus, similar to most college students in the northeast.
“My parents were dubious, but they wanted me to do what made me happy. Their concerns were extinguished when they saw how easy it was for me to get home, and I come down every month or so,” Tsvayg said.
In response to difficulties associated with studying internationally, Tsvayg said that it’s not as intimidating as it seems. Tsvayg feels that being far away from family and friends induces the same feelings for an abroad student as for any college freshman. “A lot of people overlook McGill because it’s international and it seems like a difficulty to adjust to, but they should [be] rest assured that the experience they have here is unlike any in America. You’ll be incredibly thankful for the relationships and connections that you made here with an incredibly diverse set of people, “ Tsvayg said.
To students interested in studying abroad, Tsvayg offers a little bit of advice. “International schools have more freedom socially, fewer limitations, and a different outlook on education. It’s less about the brand names and more about the educational opportunities,” she said. “It’s the kind of place where you make your own life and nobody dictates what you should do.”
Freedom of Choice
Ariel Lerner (‘11) decided that the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, was the college for her mainly because of its loose policy regarding classes. “I can take any classes I want, and nothing that I don’t. I major in English literature, but I take two outside courses: philosophy and business studies. I don’t take any math, science, language, or history courses, although I could if I wanted to,” she said. This differs from standard colleges in America, in which students typically take certain required classes, even if they are not interested in the subject or necessary for pursuing their intended majors. This different approach at Edinburgh is a major advantage to students who perform well in one particular subject, but not others.
Although Edinburgh is located about 3,000 miles from New York, Lerner did not have much difficulty in adapting to life in Scotland. “There are a lot of international students here, many of whom are American. But in addition to that, the university hosts many events to help us acclimate to a new environment. It also helps to have family nearby, and my brother attends St. Andrew’s University, which is also in Scotland,” she said.
Lerner was partly motivated to attend Edinburgh because of her parents. “My father actually encouraged it. He thought it would be a good experience, which it definitely has been so far,” Lerner said.
Timing means everything, according to junior Gabriela Cujba, who plans to apply to Oxford University. Unlike the vast majority who fear attending a foreign school, Cujba is one of the few who strives to do it.
“I’ve always had an attraction for Oxford University, but a lot of the influence has to deal with time. Instead of the ten years or so it takes in the US to become a doctor, Oxford reduces this to five or six years. It will give me a big head start in life,” she said. On top of that, Cubja has citizenship for the European Union (EU), which gives her a discount on the high international tuition fee. Overseas students must pay a tuition fee of about 27,000 pounds in the field of medicine Cujba plans to major in, but because of her citizenship, she only needs to pay 9,000 pounds.
Studying in England for Cujba means she can see family who lives there, even though she may be leaving some of her closest friends behind.
“It’s a major change to attend Oxford, but I feel like it’s the school for me,” Cujba said.
Attending international colleges is a great leap, but those who make the jump rarely regret it. Though it seems daunting, it is an experience that builds character, gives students freedom, and allows students to take more responsibility over themselves.