OXFORD, England--I am the first to admit that I've made a lot of mistakes as a college student. But as far as my worst decisions go, choosing to study abroad for a summer definitely ranks in the top five.
Perhaps that's the wrong way to say it. I arrived at Trinity College a few days ago for a short summer program and fell in love with the place. Wonderful tutors, friendly people, lawns clipped so close you could shoot pool on them--Oxford is one of those rare locales that is charming without being cliched about it. But everything I do here is shadowed by the nagging feeling that I only have six weeks before returning to familiar Cambridge, and all because I was too afraid to leave my comfortable Harvard niche for two semesters.
Ever since high school, I felt that study abroad was something I had to do. Throughout my first year I kept going to the Office of Career Services and flipping through glossy brochures filled with pictures of students frolicking in glamorous locales. Those students seemed to be saying, "Hi! Look how happy we are to be in France/Germany/Zimbabwe/wherever!"
But as I settled into college, that vision slowly got pushed to the back of my mind. I picked a concentration, I got involved in a couple of campus extracurriculars, I got roommates and friends. British universities and their trimester system demand a year's enrollment, and without the buffer of Advanced Standing, the possibility of spending a year abroad and still graduating on time seemed incredibly slim. The drawbacks kept adding up. Falling behind on my classes, graduating with a different class, missing a House crew season--they all began to seem like too heavy a price to pay for an international jaunt.
That tunnel vision that hits so many of us set in, and I convinced myself that the students in those brochures were really saying, "Look how happy we are to be away from our miserable campus!" Harvard wasn't a miserable place for me--in fact, it was perfectly comfortable--so clearly the notion of study abroad was unnecessary at best and a fatal blow to my happiness and well-being at worst.
I probably could have finished college without leaving Cambridge and been perfectly satisfied. But I decided to come to Oxford for the summer. After being a little worried that I was missing out on some killer internship or summer job, now I'm seeing everything I'm missing out on by being too afraid to come here for a year. Its so easy to compare Oxford to Cambridge, and to be homesick for decent food and familiar newspapers and the Boston Red Sox. But by knowing that I'll be back in my natural habitat so soon, it's just as easy to avoid immersing myself in the culture; for six weeks, it wouldn't be hard to pretend that Oxford is just Harvard with nicer lawns. Being here for a couple of semesters would force me to explore and to adjust.
But there are many of us who don't take the risk. We get involved in sports and publications and other activities and feel like if we leave them for a while, we won't be welcomed back. We worry that we'll miss out on the one incredible class that everyone else in our concentration will be taking. We worry that we'll be too busy making up credits to do thesis research, or that we'll end up taking three Core classes senior spring. But even if the most dire predictions came true, spending a year here would be an unforgettable experience. There is an unbelievable amount of exploration to be done here, and, because of my own stupidity, I have only six weeks in which to do it.
I limited my study abroad to a two-month trip and already regret it. When I get back to Cambridge, I'll be kicking myself. But for now, I'm enjoying as much as I possibly can in a far-too-short summer.
Jonelle M. Lonergan '02, a Crimson executive, is an English concentrator in Winthrop House. She is studying at Oxford University's Trinity College this summer.