(This article was one I originally wrote for The American Word)
Many students choose to study abroad during their time at college, which is definitely the case here at American University. According to American University’s website, 60 percent of the Class of 2013 studied abroad during their time as an undergraduate. However, no one person’s experience studying abroad is the same. These experiences come in all different shapes and sizes; each country, city, and study abroad program offers each student a different experience.
Meet Andrea Fenster, a senior here at AU. She studied abroad in Spring 2015 at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) in Copenhagen, Denmark with about 30 other students from AU. She talked to The American Word about her personal experience with studying abroad at DIS.
Fenster is a Law and Society major with two minors in Sociology, and Public Policy. She is also graduating this December. So she knew that if she wanted to study abroad that she needed to find the right program, one that would fit in with her studies and still allow her to graduate early. She started looking at the typical study abroad locations, like London, but immediately decided against it. “It seemed like a safe and boring choice,” she said.
The reason she ultimately chose DIS was because of a “core class” she found out about when initially researching the program. “Core classes are kind of like a UC here at AU,” Fenster described. The particular course Fenster discovered was called Prostitution and the Sex Trade. After learning about this class online, she says that she immediately was “stuck” on taking this class and studying at DIS. So, she went through the application process and found out she got accepted.
After she accepted and put her deposit down, Fenster freaked out a little bit. She had no idea as to what she had just gotten herself into. “All I really knew about Denmark before I left was that it was cold and rainy,” she said. She did a little bit of research on Denmark before she left, but ultimately chose to go with the flow. “I didn’t set any particular goals for myself while I was abroad. I knew I wanted to have a great time and learn about Danish life and culture.”
Fenster found some similarities to AU in her experience as a student at DIS. She took five classes while she was abroad and they were taught in a way that was similar to AU. She also said that like AU, DIS emphasized experiential learning and taking advantage of the city where you are located.
However, she also found a lot of differences in her experience abroad. In terms of the campus, Fenster likened it to GW; you had to take a bus to class and the campus itself was located in the middle of Copenhagen. One of the biggest differences between AU and DIS that she noticed was the work itself. At DIS, they emphasized different types of learning. Fenster recalled that her professors pushed personal creativity and incorporating your own views in your work. They didn’t always want her to have research in her assignments and “they loved first person.”
Traveling is usually a big part of studying abroad and it was definitely the case in Fenster’s experience at DIS. DIS encourages its students to travel to other countries and cities while they study. They even provide their students with three week-long travel breaks. Fenster spent part of one of her travel breaks with her core class, but otherwise, was free to travel wherever she wanted. “My friends and I wanted to make the most of these breaks, so we usually made it to three countries in each break,” she said. Some of the places she visited on her breaks included Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam, Paris, Nice, Marseille, and Barcelona. In total, she was able to visit 12 different countries.
When asked if she had come back from study abroad having learned a lot about herself or feeling like she was a completely different person, Fenster didn’t feel like she had in any noticeable way. But she did notice that study abroad brought out the best version of herself. “I was very happy and content while I was abroad. I was responsible and adaptable in new countries and I loved every minute of it.”
Even though every person has a different study abroad experience, Fenster did have one piece advice that could be for anyone who is getting ready to study abroad, whether they are going to DIS or a different continent entirely. She said to make sure to say yes to anything and everything, whether it is traveling to a new country or going to a new wine bar down the street. This is the time, she said, when you should go explore and do as much as you possibly can. “It’s the same thing I told myself at summer camp: don’t let being tired stop you from having fun. You can sleep when you are back at home.”