Annotations: Change of Place

Five Crimson editors share their study-abroad stories

A Sophomore Year Abroad?

My study-abroad experience is currently a headache of deadlines, paperwork, and endless trips to the registrar. Yet, as I trudge through the slush of Cambridge, eager for the day I step on a plane, sophomore friends of mine at other universities are already in the actual abroad part of their experience—my Facebook newsfeed is flooded daily with photos from Italy, Mexico, and Tanzania.

At first, I thought they were crazy to go abroad sophomore year. But after hearing a myriad of excuses from friends at Harvard as to why they just can’t leave campus their junior year—whether it be because of classes or extracurriculars—I now think the idea is a great one.

Promoting a sophomore year abroad will give students more flexibility to manage their schedules and other obligations, easing the choice of terms with impossible requirements or not going abroad at all. With all the resources available, there’s no reason not to go.

Claire G. Bulger ’11, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Winthrop House.

The Dangers of Adapting

Friends were hard to come by in Zanzibar. I was teaching in a conservative Muslim coastal village, and my neighbors were understandably distrustful of young foreigners. In an effort to adapt and fit in, I started to wear floor-length skirts and multiple shawls and to avoid speaking with my male students outside of class. One day, I passed by a store selling full-body hijabs and thought, “I really want one of those.”

This now seems to me a little extreme, but then I saw it as getting in touch with another culture. When abroad, we’re often tempted to hide our differences, to avoid being that boorish foreigner. Unfortunately, however, while you’re adapting to your host culture, you may unwittingly let your own go.

Instead, you would serve your host country and yourself better by being respectably different, so that the cultural exchange goes both ways. Don’t step out in shorts in Zanzibar, but don’t act like you’ve been tying a hijab since middle school either. It’s not so bad to be foreign.

Anita J Joseph ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.

Dressing the Part

If I had not studied abroad, then Halloween would only have lasted one day, as it usually does. But in Tanzania, where I did a homestay with a Maasai family, Halloween lasted at least five days, during which I dressed up in full Maasai gear. My homestay mama was quick to replace my Western clothing with appropriate apparel to fit in with her family—I looked just like everyone else in my five layers of red blankets and copious jewelry!

Well, at least I thought I fit in, until I ran into some tourists visiting the nearby lake who seemed to pick me right out of the crowd. As the object of their photographic endeavors, I was reminded of what it feels like to be on the other side of the camera; the hilarity of the moment was enough to perfect an extended celebration of Halloween. I highly recommend to everyone studying abroad that you play dress-up at least once.

Megan A. Shutzer ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Dudley House.

The United States of Obama

People lined the streets of Accra: shopping for themselves, rushing to catch tro-tros, and selling curios to the obrunis (Westerners) studying or working in Ghana. As I maneuvered through the crowds, I noticed that I was being greeted with a familiar name: “Obama! Obama!” Yes—that Obama. My engagement in the U.S. presidential election was not lessened because I was in Ghana this summer, but it was actually heightened by the opportunity to view this watershed historical moment through a Ghanaian lens. Being an American in Ghana meant an inevitable association with Obama, and I had the chance to talk politics with the Ghanaian university students who planned to stay up through the night and watch the election results in November. Sharing in the euphoria of Obama’s victory at home and abroad made Nov. 4 twice as sweet.

Emma M. Lind ’09, a former Crimson editorial chair, is a history and literature concentrator in Winthrop House.

A Dream Deferred

As a second-semester junior with plenty of academic and extracurricular obligations, I’ve often contemplated taking a semester or year away from Harvard to travel. There’s no shortage of plans for what I could do with my time away—as a student of Central European history, I’d love to visit the middle of the Continent, work at a law firm, or enjoy a few weeks of relaxation at home. But I’ve decided that my place (at least for now) is here—in Cambridge, surrounded by friends I care about, deeply immersed in my studies and extracurricular activities. Going abroad as a senior is simply a life choice that I cannot afford to make at this point.

Of course, this is not to say that I will never go abroad—through the various resources that Harvard makes available to its affiliates, I am more than confident that I will have numerous opportunities to plan for postgraduate travel and study abroad. My dream of touring Central Europe may have to wait—but, thanks to Harvard’s ample offerings, it will be a dream deferred, not forsaken.

Eugene Kim ’10, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Kirkland House.