What you need to know about…deciding whether or not to study abroad at Harvard.
Some students view a term abroad as an integral part of their undergraduate experience. That being said, amongst it peers, Harvard does not have the best reputation for encouraging studying abroad. While many things have improved in that past several years, there are still TEN important things to consider.
To study abroad or not to study abroad…THAT is the question.
Studying abroad is a great tool of academic and personal development, but it’s not for everyone. You might start college thinking that you definitely want to study abroad, but many Harvard students are eventually dissuaded, often for the following reasons.
1) Missing Out
The most common (and obvious) reason is missing out on the Harvard College ‘experience’ (friends, extracurriculars, classes) for a term. Will your potential study abroad experience compensate for a lost term at Harvard? Only you know how much you love (or don’t love) Harvard’s atmosphere, and only you know how much you are willing to risk to try something else.
2) Currency Woes
The US dollar has been going down the tubes. But financial aid transfers to your tuition abroad, and you might be eligible for a loan for spending money. Talk to your financial aid officer—don’t let money be your reason for not pursuing a new experience if Harvard can make it possible. You might need a work-study job for a term (check out the SEO website) or to cut out those daily Lamont Café runs, but saving money is possible in college. And yeah, the Euro is gaining value, but the peso and zloty are still affordable. Think off the beaten track for host countries if you are extremely financially constrained.
Harvard does not always offer GPA credit for study abroad. Ask your department about this, as it varies. In almost all cases, Harvard offers concentration and secondary credit for classes abroad (eg, if you need to take a non-Western history class for your History degree, the class you take on Vietnam at a French university will fulfill it.) But you may not get the credit in your GPA for the class. This can be a good or a bad thing—if you ace the class, whoops, there goes an A credit to your GPA. But if you bomb it (either because it’s in your foreign language, or your decision to go à la discotheque the night before une examen finale backfired) you’re covered. Study abroad can be a more cultural education, and less stressful. But your GPA may not change, for better or for worse.
4) Housing at Harvard
You might be concerned about where you will live when you come back. But housing is something the Houses take seriously. It’s your House manager’s job to make your transition as smooth as possible, but you may not get the room you want for a term. Again, this is something that should not be the prohibitive factor in your studying abroad. Talk to your House manager to see what the usual situation is. It will be at most a term that you are living in a different room, and they aren’t going to kick you out to the courtyard.
These issues are all definitely significant concerns, ones that have kept many a Harvard student in Cambridge. But there are stronger reasons to go abroad.
5) Learning a Language
Gaining a practical skill—fluency in another language—is invaluable. First, if you are planning to get a foreign language citation, or especially a secondary field in a foreign language, you should strongly consider studying in a country that speaks that language. When you put a language degree on your resume, your employers will expect fluency when they hire you. Secondly, if you are concentrating in something that doesn’t leave you with an obviously quantifiable skill (hello, humanities concentrators!), language competency is a great marketable asset. It will only increase your potential job opportunities.
6) Keeping in Touch
Kids from other colleges study abroad in large percentages…clearly friendships and extracurriculars (and yes, even classes, though they aren’t “Harvard caliber”) can adapt for a term. You can start a blog, gchat, facebook, skype, IM, or just plain email to keep in touch with your friends for free. True, it’s not the same as being together in person, but the most valuable friendships are the ones that allow you to grow.
7) New Experiences!
You will have the chance to experience life in a new way. Since Harvard doesn’t offer many term-time programs, you could be studying through another US college’s abroad program or in a native institution. You will meet new people from the US and your host country, and lead a life totally different from your one in Cambridge.
8) Other Unexpected Opportunities
You could even do an unpaid internship one day a week. Improve your language skills and professional vocabulary while meeting people and making contacts. Maybe you can even finagle that into a summer gig?
9) Summer Abroad
Don’t forget about spending a summer abroad—science concentrators, this is for you! Harvard (and other colleges) offers courses in the summer in diverse locations, for course credit. You can also work abroad, for an internship (look at OCS for funding opportunities), Let’s Go, or a volunteer position such as WorldTeach.
10) Skip a Class!
You can skip one core of your choice — kiss my ass, Science A!!!! And if you get a citation, you are credited for a Foreign Cultures core requirement. Woohoo, killing two birds with one…study abroad term?
As great and prestigious as Harvard is, it is not the center of the universe. Depending on your academic requirements, it might not even be feasible to spend a term abroad. But if you ARE interested, consider all your options before making a decision. Talk to the people at the OIP, your friends, and your advisers. And think about this- when else in your life will you have the opportunity to live, study, and travel abroad with no responsibilities but yourself?