October 6, 2014, changed my life. It began as a rather mundane day, as I had gone to class and spent the afternoon sitting in my room reading my history books like usual. Being a major procrastinator, I took a break to check my emails. I had received a message from American University, asking to me to take a look at their Washington Semester program and spend the semester in the nation’s capital.
The Washington Semester Program has two main components: a three-day-a-week seminar (mine was International Law and Organizations, lovingly nicknamed ILO), and two days a week interning in one’s future field. This is advantageous since it allows students to gain work experience without the added financial burden of living in the city in the summer.
As a sophomore, it was unusual to be contemplating studying off campus. Yet, I had nothing to lose. Since I was still dealing with a year-old injury that kept me from being on the swim team and I was ahead academically, I saw leaving Lafayette for a semester as a way to rediscover myself and return knowing what I wanted from school and life in general. So I took a few more minutes to take a look at the program.
I’m incredibly grateful that I did.
While I ended up starting up my “study abroad” process later than I was supposed to, the Study Abroad office, my professors, my swim coach, and my friends and family were beyond supportive in aiding me as I completed my application, applied for scholarships, and set up everything I would need so that I could temporarily leave my life as a Leopard and head to a city I have dreamed about my entire life.
While many students think about studying abroad, studying away can be just as gratifying and life-changing. Even moving three hours away from Lafayette gave me the opportunity to learn and grow about myself and the world around me in ways I never would have imagined before.
I went into the semester with a few goals:
- To ensure that human rights was truly a passion for me, and if it was not, to find other outlets
- To gain professional experience from the internship component and learn more about the working world
- To come out as a better student, friend, citizen, and person
The combination of my internship and my seminar allowed me to be constantly travelling around the city and learning more about what it had to offer. Every day, I remained in awe of the vast beauty all around me, whether it was the expansive National Mall and its towering monuments or the city blocks or the water whose edges laid out from Foggy Bottom to Georgetown. Truly, the city was my home, my campus, and my world.
As the semester progressed, I learned more about myself and the people who were in the program with me. I have created lifelong friendships with people who go to schools all across the country, and we were all able to learn from each other and have an amazing time in the process. From watching March Madness to Sunday brunches, excursions to a Nationals game, a free concert, and the many museums the city has to offer, the social aspect of the Washington Semester Program is something I will never forget.
Something that is constantly on my mind is what I want to do after graduation, and being in DC has definitely helped me come up with options, although I’m still not sure which one I’m going to pick. Being in a class about law has allowed me to realize a Master’s program will be more beneficial than law school, and I was introduced to the idea of working abroad and will potentially be joining the Peace Corps. Being in the Washington Semester Program as well as being able to intern in the city did not choose my future for me, but instead has allowed me to understand all of my options and given me the power to make those decisions.
Most importantly, I feel that from January to now, I have undergone some unbelievable development as a person. I came in from a semester that was tolling on my physical and mental health, and being left to my own devices in the city taught me how to quickly adapt to my surroundings, to deal with my emotions, and to find my values through my own being rather than societal expectations. Even my roommate has commented that I’ve changed pretty drastically since January. “You seem more at peace,” she said.
So when looking into studying abroad, don’t discount the idea of staying in America. Depending on your field, there can be incredible benefit to simply changing your environment to a city larger than Easton. I have zero regrets in taking part of my sophomore year away, and I have had people say that they’re now interested in the program as well. Unless you want to study a particular language or culture, I believe the most important thing to know in deciding what to do off campus is to know what you want to gain out of it, even if that leads you only a few hours further from Lafayette.