Study Abroad Is More Than Just Partying

Letter to the Editors

To the editors:

While I agree with Zachary S. Podolsky ’04 (Column, “Fools Rush In,” Feb. 27) that recent efforts to ease the study abroad process stem from space and faculty limitations and not an honest desire for students to experience other cultures, I do think the measures are a step in the right direction.

Study abroad, like so many other experiences in college, is what one makes of it. The students abroad who spend their semester in a “four month drunken rave,” probably don’t act so differently at home. Podolsky holds in high regard Harvard’s “distinguished faculty” and “rigorous classes” but far underestimates its students. The assumption that easing bureaucratic restrictions on study abroad will lead to drunken raving around the world is simply unfair.

I spent last fall in Madrid and discovered firsthand the many benefits of study abroad. My Spanish reached a level of fluency it simply could not have in a Harvard classroom (the value of which Podolsky, a Classics concentrator, might not immediately realize), I saw a different slant on world events and I lived and studied with people very different from those I know in this country. Stepping outside the bubble of Harvard (and of the U.S) for a short while was an invaluable experience which has immeasurably enriched my experience at this distinguished institution.

While I agree that high academic standards should be upheld for study abroad students, I do not think that making it easier to go abroad must entail making it easier to be abroad. In Spain I took four rigorous, challenging classes with distinguished, talented and attentive professors. This should be the norm for study abroad at Harvard, but without the red tape—taking a leave of absence, losing student status (and thereby having to pay off loans), sorting out housing concerns—which students like myself had to go through to get there. We’re not all drunken Riviera ravers.

Sarah L. Thomas ’03

Feb. 27, 2003