Leaving vs. Leading: Debating Study Abroad

Sheila R. Adams ’05, an active member of the Undergraduate Council who many members expected to see as a candidate for the presidency this year, cited study abroad as the main reason behind her decision not to run.

“On the one hand I feel that I have a responsibility to the organization and by extension the people that we all serve, and on the other hand I feel like I have a responsibility to myself,” says Adams, who dedicated more than two years to the council and now serves as vice-chair of the Student Affairs Committee.

When Stef E. Levner ’04, co-captain of Radcliffe Heavyweight Crew, was debating whether to study abroad, rowing was a “major factor.”

But after several senior team members advised her to seize the opportunity, she flew to Spain last fall and still managed to return in the spring to row with the NCAA Championship-winning team.

“I was definitely more than two steps behind my teammates when I returned from Spain,” Levner wrote in an e-mail. “It is impossible to parallel what the team does on your own, especially in Europe, where people will look at you like you are insane for running streets for exercise.”


Despite the extra training she needed upon her return, Levner says, “I do not regret a moment of my experience abroad.”

Losing Leaders?

As more students like Levner choose to study abroad, some student organizations worry they may lose valuable leadership.

David K. Kessler ’04, president of the International Relations Council (IRC), one of the largest student organizations in the College, says he is concerned.

“I’d be particularly worried that the same people who serve as officers, often the most dedicated and talented, would also be the most likely to want to study abroad since their [international relations] interests run deepest,” he says.

Indeed, Edwards says the “pattern for study abroad nationally is students in the top third” academically, many of whom are also very active in extracurriculars.

But Buttigieg says organizations could also benefit.

“Of course we hate to lose someone for awhile, but if they are committed to the organization then they will return, and when they do come back they’ll have a fresh perspective both from their new experience and from simply being above the fray for a while,” he says.

The Changing of the Guard

But some say the choice between extracurricular leadership and studying abroad should be avoidable.