Someone sent me a link to this entry on first year abroad programs, and I thought I would take the time to reply with my own post.
I never intended to matriculate to New York University; it was by no means any where near the top of my list of schools that I desired to attend. But when the time to hand in my letters stating my decision rolled on by, I relied more heavily on my own personal situation, as opposed to thinking of career or studies, than anything else to make my decision. Other schools had been offering equally competitive programs of study, but the allure of moving so far away was what attracted me to NYU.
The schools that had provided me acceptances were all based in the northeast, or were close to Toronto. In other words, I would be relatively close to family and friends; and that was not what I wanted, at the time especially. It is to say that I wanted a fresh start – to break away from all the already constructed ideas of “me.” And with an offer to study in Paris for my first year of university, I suppose that I could easily grant my wish by saying yes.
To better clarify, upon acceptance to NYU, I was only provided with the options of studying in London, Paris, or Florence through the Liberal Studies program. I had not been given direct acceptance to CAS’ psychology program.
There were twenty-one of us. We were the pilot program of first-year students at the NYU in France campus. Beforehand, students were put on “exchange” with the American University of Paris, whose academic program just didn’t quite match up in terms of excellence and connection with the Washington Square campus. A small group of professors (the Liberal Studies faculty at the time consisted of Marina Davies, Itay Sapir, Mary Lou Longworth, Francesca Trabacca, and Shouleh Vatanabadi) were hired to teach us our cultural and social foundations, along with written expression. To be more accurate, Shouleh Vatanabadi was actually a professor “on exchange” within the Liberal Studies department, and could therefore be considered a connection to the New York campus and actual program itself. All of us students lived in the same building, which also housed other French students (mostly much older ones), and we all shared that same forty minute subway commute. In which case, we were permitted to see the nitty-gritty side of Paris, along with the chic “frou frou” of which everyone often thinks.
Of course, things have changed since two years ago. The program has now expanded to included sixty to seventy freshman students, and they are now housed in two dormitories – the original Résidence République (where I lived) on Oberkampf and Clos near the Gambetta métro.
I could easily talk about the allure of studying in a city that people only dream to visit, let alone live in, but that isn’t the bulk of what makes the program what it is. If that is what intrigues you, though, that’s up for discussion through many of my other posts. Briefly, I can tell you that I’ve been culture-fied more so in my first year of university than any other year of schooling through classes in museums, opportunities to attend intellectually stimulating conversations and walking tours, and to explore France through organized overnight trips. Admittedly, the opportunity to travel is there, but it is this forged sense of community and slow introduction to university that I love about the Liberal Studies Paris program.
Few people ever know what they want to do when they’re eighteen; heck, many seniors also haven’t the slightest clue as to what they want to pursue after graduation. Being away from where you are going to be spending your next several years is in itself a blessing. This may sound contradictory to the paragraph above, but it isn’t. I’m not speaking of the allure of Paris, but rather, the allure in being removed from New York. Chasing after internships or juggling two jobs and school isn’t what college is all about, but all of that is hard to remember, especially when going to a school that doesn’t have a “traditional and true” campus in a city whose living costs are exceedingly demanding.
It is not necessarily the foreign language problem that bars students from looking for internships in their first year, but rather the enforcement of the idea that this “home” or “city” isn’t everlasting. With the understanding that in one year, this will no longer be a home, there seems to be the unconscious imposing that “to live” in the city is necessitated, and therefore taking away this future-oriented mentality. That and the compounding of attending NYU in a somewhat out-of-context situation – it isn’t the large 20 000 student populated university, but rather, an extrapolated version intermixed with local culture.
And through all of this, you develop a rather different mindset than your Washington Square peers. There has been more to experience and see, whether it be in terms of culture of NYU itself. Specifically speaking about NYU in France, it is wonderful to find staff that care about you. The small campus creates a community in itself with its set-up, what with the courtyard, multiple buildings, and “break” from the bustling Rue de Passy. Students have often complained about having to hound for answers and requests in New York, but it seems almost impossible to be ignored here, given that everything is two minutes reach within one another. While the professors teach at other schools and are therefore busy, they try to accommodate students, and to aid them in their learning adventures. And of course, the idea of close-knit relationships here is enforced with many teachers asking you to call them by their first name (that’s more specific to the French professors, as opposed to the Liberal Studies ones).
But if you want to talk about connection with New York, that is certainly possible. One of the concerns that I had in accepting the offer to study abroad for my freshman year was that I would be detached from the main school. Sure, you could say that I did remain connected what with David Vogelsang’s (irrelevant-to-us) emails for events in New York, but fortunately, there is a much better connection than that. If you’re reading this as an incoming freshman to the program, you’ve probably received several emails from Director of Global Programs Beth Haymaker – well, that’s your link, and it’s as good as it can ever get. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone, who up until recently earned less than my mom (who only has a university degree because the college equivalent was promoted to university status after her graduation), care so much about students. For a lot of us, once the clock strikes 5 PM, we hurry out of the office, and ignore all work-relevant emails until 9AM the following morning. And especially fortunate for those studying abroad during their freshman year, that isn’t really the case with Beth. Work isn’t really confined to a schedule for her; you can expect a much needed reply on the weekend or on a New York evening. And that is even more so the case when she arrives twice a year for advising periods; doors can be open until 11 PM (in Florence, anyway, since she gets housed on campus) for students that need to be cleared for advising or need advice on how to pursue their interests. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever see that type of dedication at the university after you transfer into your third-year departments.
There is quite a lot to be had with spending your first year abroad. Surely, I can tell you that you will form close friendships, but the truth is, you’ll be able to find friends no matter where you are, as long as you are willing to make an effort. What I rather illustrate with this post is that studying abroad during your freshman year with NYU doesn’t mean that you will be disconnected from the university in terms of relations and academics; in fact, you’ll probably have a better appreciation of the university and what it has to offer than most do.
I do have to articulate one thing in response to the entry to which I am replying. Freshman year is definitely not the same as the junior year for study abroad. My rebuttal to such is long in itself, but can be read in a previous entry of mine.