Different Perspectives: Studying Off Campus

The world is a big place, be careful out there.

It’s the time of the year when most of the sophomore class is deciding whether or not they will be going abroad, where, and for how long. While we at the Thrill believe that Kenyon’s Off Campus Study office does an excellent job, there are somethings that no one seems to talk about when it comes to off campus study.  Our hope is to share the perspectives of studying away from Kenyon that rarely get mentioned. This post features Anna Sophia Ziton ’14, who spent an entire year in RussiaBen Jacoby ’14, who stayed in the United StatesKate Lindsay ’15, who is currently on the Kenyon-Exeter program, and Olivia  Grabar Sage ’14, who decided not to go abroad. 

Anna Sophia Ziton ’14 (St. Petersburg, Russia; both semesters):

Although St. Petersburg was rough, I appreciated my time there and, by second semester, I fell in love with it. I would go back in a heartbeat if I had the chance. Still, there are things I wish I had known. Whether or not it would have made a difference, I don’t know. But instead of presenting Study Abroad as nothing but a bouquet of roses, I would have appreciated knowing one or two of the following:

  • Looking like a minority, as I do, will make people even more suspicious of you than they already are. Having a fake conversation on your phone in English is a good way to make the storeowners stop following you.
  • Being a woman on the subway at rush hour, it is important to be the first in the car. Leave the seats open for the elderly, but quickly position yourself against a wall of the car to minimize harassment. Most of my problems came from men. They said it would be worse in Italy. Then I went to Italy. No. It was worse in Russia.
  • Icicles can kill you. But seriously, though.
  • Not every old lady knows how to cook. Your host mother might actually make you sick with her food. Bring emergency funds or get a job just in case you need to eat.
  • The amount that they love ketchup and mayonnaise borders on a religion.
  • Cars drive on the sidewalk — never let your guard down.
  • Sometimes when it sounds like Russians are fighting, they’re really just having a conversation.
  • If you are actually experiencing something (harassment, theft, whatever), odds are no one is going to help you.

Not everyone has the same experiences in St. Petersburg. It depends a great deal on where you live, who you live with, how much time you have, and the places you’re willing to go. As for my personal and varied incidents, I am thankful that I have a realistic understanding of the city and can genuinely love it for its good and bad qualities.

Ben Jacoby ’14 (Washington, D.C.; Fall Semester):

I’m a political science major and I personally am a huge fan of studying the American government aspect of the major. As such, I chose to spend my semester off campus in Washington D.C., studying at American University and interning with a Congressman from my home state of Washington. I wish I could say that I loved the experience but the truth is that it was neither an academically challenging nor satisfying semester. I often felt like I was relearning material that I had been taught in my AP Government class during my senior year of high school.

The one redeeming grace was the internship that gave me some wonderful experience working in the government itself. Last December, I had a chance to visit Kenyon after my program finished before I headed back west. While here, people asked how great my time away had been, expecting I’m sure to hear me praise it endlessly and claim it was the greatest experience of my life, but with all honesty I would just stop, think, and say “It was alright.”

Kate Lindsay ’15 (Kenyon-Exeter Program; currently in England):

Kenyon frames the abroad experience as a time of personal discovery and whimsy and making everybody back at school jealous. While I’d like to think I’m developing and exhibiting aspects of all those things, what it’s done most of all is emphasize the sheer distance between me and the things I love.

I could talk about the new friends I’ve made, the times I’ve literally peed myself laughing on my way back from a pub, the history that I’ve touched and the things I’m lucky enough to witness every day that most people will never experience in their lifetimes. But that’s already shoved down your throats every which way from the time you enter sophomore year. What I really want to write about is what Kenyon never mentions. How the moment you’ve checked “yes” to your program, the Kenyon community that supported you all the way there is gone.

This cannot be put more literally than when I came to visit Kenyon before I left. My name was on a list so I could not get access to any buildings. It was like Kenyon was forcing me out. It was already saying, nope, you don’t go here. Stop trying.

And while I’m participating in all the usual cliched Instagrams and Facebook posts that abroad entails, what you guys don’t realize is that at Kenyon you’re doing the exact same thing. I’m no longer a part of inaugurations and Halloween and what Peirce is serving for dinner, but I get flashes of the things I am missing, and the London Eye ends up paling in comparison to the memories I could be making with friends who are too far away.

Olivia Grabar Sage ’15 (Kenyon without abroad):

Last year, when everyone else in my year was deciding where to go abroad, I had a slight crisis about leaving campus. I felt the pressure to go have a life-changing experience in some far-off land, but I didn’t have this urge to get away that many of my friends did. We only have eight semesters at Kenyon, and I just couldn’t convince myself that going abroad would be worth the semester I would lose here. Part of the reason that I came to Kenyon was because it is so different than where I grew up, and I want to appreciate all of the time that I have here. I would love to travel abroad at some point – maybe to study, maybe to teach, maybe just to wander – but there will still be time after I graduate.

6 responses

  1. Wow, not exactly rave reviews for the much touted off campus semesters we are all supposed to have in order to have the optimal Kenyon experience! Thank you for the honesty of these posts.

    Does it make best secret economic sense for Kenyon to have as many students as possible not in Gambier in any given term where there would be that many more people to accommodate in Peirce not to mention classrooms and dorms?

  2. well they changed that ^ we now do have to pay kenyon as if we were eating at peirce and living in the shitty dorms even though we are thousands of miles away not eating peirce or living at kenyon…

  3. it might be helpful to make an effort to find students who had positive experiences. the writers of the thrill by their nature tend to be very “in” to kenyon. oftentimes those students who appreciate going abroad the most are those who really could use a break and a new world to explore and open themselves up to.

  4. I don’t think any of these are negative reviews. Even the happiest abroad experience has moments of anxiety and isolation. That doesn’t mean that the writers regret it, or even that they are unhappy. They were simply trying to give an honest answer, instead of just repeating what everyone else says about the “growth” and “discovery.” Give them a break.

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