This post is for all those students out there that feel a little stifled at Georgetown and are looking at study abroad as an alternative option. From my personal experience, I can definitely say two years at GU had me feeling some type of way. Don’t get me wrong, man was I happy when I got in! However, after a while at GU, I definitely started to feel like I was running on a hamster wheel. It is not Georgetown’s fault, but rather that of the nature of American universities. We do roughly the same routine, with the same people, in the same place, everyday. Study abroad was my escape from that glass tank at Pet Co.
I came into college having just turned 18, and feeling relieved that I had just won the rat race that is college admissions. I grew up in a monochrome town, with a homogeneous population, at a high school where everyone wanted to go to the same fifteen to twenty schools; I am sure if you’re at GU now you can empathize. I felt like every decision in my life thus far had been made for me already. Sure, I had some choice; should I play football or baseball? Should I take the SAT or the ACT? Should I apply to this college or that one? Either way, I was going to play a sport because every one of my friends did. I was going to take one of those placement tests because I had to if I wanted to go to college. I was going to apply to some “safety” schools, some “reach” schools, and some schools that were statistically right based on my GPA and test scores, because thats what they tell you to do when you’re a kid from the New York suburbs. If living life is like writing your own story, then mine was pretty darn boring so far, or at least I felt like I had read it already.
Georgetown was a revelation. I remember not being able to stop thinking, “Oh my gosh. Look at all of this choice, this opportunity, this potential!” I still think the same thing to this day, but certain caveats have developed over two years. I was so ready to grow as a person. I was 18, which meant I was legally an adult. I was out of my hometown, which meant I could be anybody I wanted to be. I was away from my parents, which meant I got to make decisions for myself. Yet, as the semesters passed, I started to feel frustrated. It was hard to feel like I was becoming my own person when everywhere I looked I saw people that looked just like me, at least on paper. While college afforded me many more freedoms than high school, I could still see the same trend developing. Again, I was thinking about what separated me from everyone else, and I couldn’t find much. The job our society fed me was to be unique and successful, and in my mind I was failing.
The rest of this post is going to be about the difference in student treatment between American universities and foreign ones. My general point is that our structured student lives continue to become more structured in American university. We maintain the illusion of choice while we are categorized based on our ability to read, write, manage time, and cooperate. We are told that college is the best time of our lives, even though we all hide immense anxieties behind a polite smile, as we write another 2,000 word essay. I am not saying that college is a bad time, but there are obvious unhealthy qualities that we all tend to ignore. If you don’t believe me, read any addition of the Stall Seat Journal telling you where to get help for your depression while at the same time telling you how to drink responsibly. Seems a bit counterintuitive to me.
The U of A has many similarities to Georgetown. There is a very diverse student body, an extremely qualified faculty that is always there to help you, and a huge variety of subject choice. The differences are also multitudinous. However, they all roughly have to do with the way you are treated as a student, and what is expected of you. At Georgetown, I was very confined. I lived in New South freshman year and LXR sophomore, ate at Leo’s and Wisemiller’s every day, spent hours upon hours in Lau, went to one of the same three bars on the weekends, etc. Again, don’t get me wrong, I loved it at first. What an amazing community I got to be a part of. After two years of it though, I was gasping for air. I looked at study abroad like it was an oncoming chubby toddler finger rocketing toward the Georgetown bubble.
On to Auckland. What a unique, gorgeous, and accommodating city and campus. I didn’t love it right away. It wasn’t as shiny and renowned as Georgetown, and it was different from what I was used to, but after two months I have come to this conclusion: they treat you differently here, not like a student, but like a person. No one here is telling me that I have to live in campus dorms because the university is protecting me from exploitation by private landlords. No where does it require me to have a meal plan because they don’t think I can cook for myself. If Im having a beer and being loud with my friends in my apartment, the RA knocks on the door, asks us politely to quiet down and walks away, rather than calling the campus police who are automatically overzealous because they’re annoyed they have to deal with a noise complaint at midnight.
Maybe Georgetown makes us live and eat in GU because they don’t have the proper accommodation (it doesn’t have enough money to take allow us to pay someone else to live, and it doesn’t have enough space to properly accommodate us with kitchens), which renders my above reasoning invalid. That doesn’t change the fact that those are the reasons they give us because they do not want to admit their inadequacy. No one wants to admit inadequacy at all, for that matter, because Georgetown has a reputation to uphold and its better for everyone if it stays nice and untarnished. That kind of thinking is very dangerous for a young person. If everything has to go according to plan, then we get anxious and depressed when it inevitably does not. In general, we need to become more comfortable with imperfection, and less afraid of the concept of “failure” our culture has formed in our minds. This is what I have learned so far in Auckland. Hope it helps, and that I wasn’t too harsh on GU. I can’t wait to get back.