Go Abroad

Brook Schaaf would like to wish Forrest and Jenni happy March birthdays. You can find him celebrating at the Superbly Squelched comedy show Saturday night in the student union. Respond to him at [email protected]

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Last weekend my high school exchange group had its reunion. Out of 31 original participants, 13 made it to Chicago for another session. It brought back crazy memories for me from five years ago when we were a pack of immature, wondering teenagers living in Germany.

The weekend itself was the best I have had since my sister's wedding last fall. It reminded me how very good that year was, how it influenced my understanding of the world and how much it changed me. Since that time I have gone on to spend another year and summer abroad in Germany. I feel better off for it, and would encourage others to take the plunge.

There is so much I have had a chance to do, like bungee jumping in Prague, love-parading in Berlin, reflecting outside of Krakow, pub-crawling in Edinburgh, freezing in Budapest, paying too much in London, going to the Louvre in Paris, visiting van Gogh in Amsterdam, taking pictures in Zurich, drinking beer in Munich, watching television in Bergisch Gladbach, pulling pints near Frankfurt, tanning on the Baltic coast, being bored in Belgium, living scandalously in Göttingen, karnivaling in Cologne, dining in Siena. The list goes on.

I do not mean to be obnoxious or exclusive with the description. Anyone can have the same without even living abroad. Save up some cash, keep up the pace, and you can hit up twice as many places in just one summer. However, if you are constantly on the move from one museum, one coffee shop, one city, one good time to another, you are missing out on something.

Vacation in an exotic environment is great for kicks, but it cannot compare to the substantial experience of living in a foreign country. Understanding the ins and outs of a different kind of day is a better gratification than rushing through or idling elsewhere. As much fun as tooling about can be, I have fonder memories of daytime functions, family events, repeat visits and studying (the Berlin Staatsbibliothek Haus II –- two thumbs up).

Waking up you feel like the day is more of a commodity. Walking around you become conscious of so many assumptions you make about fashion, free bags when you go shopping, late store hours or mediocre public transportation. They say when you live somewhere new the rule of three comes into effect - everything counts three times as much: happiness, sadness, anger, frustration and satisfaction. It isn't that life is easy anywhere you go, but that it has some kind of bonus value when you are in a different location, exercising your brain with a new language. Academic types appreciatively refer to the year as an "academic vacation." That the year is fun cannot be overlooked. What is possible to overlook are genuine gains in your academic education. This is more than a big vacation; this is a newfound appreciation for life.

In going you are taking the road less traveled; you will face new challenges. Several friends of mine recall it as the best and the worst year of their lives. Some people had host families that would not give them food. Some people hated everyone in their school. Some people got homesick. Some people fell in love. You are putting yourself in a vulnerable position, but I believe we do not really know ourselves until we test ourselves.

"Travel broadens your horizons, teaches you tolerance, tests you, makes you happy to be alive, teaches you your own culture, learns you your own grammar" - the string of cliches goes on and on. You should know it's all true. In the same way that advice is really only valuable insofar as you can apply it to your own life, hearing about how great it is to spend time in a foreign country is only valuable insofar as you have experienced it yourself.

Here is the big plug: GO ABROAD. Do it. Don't make excuses. You do not have to be a part of the UC system's program. (With regards to "Tidal Wave II," I find the whole idea of having more students at UC Berkeley by getting them out of Berkeley dubious.) Still, I ended up being glad I did go on the Education Abroad Program; there was a nice support structure present. It costs about the same as a year here. You can still graduate in four years, as I am. (And even if you had to, taking an extra semester would still be worthwhile.)

Go to Stephens Hall Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Look through the paperwork. Talk to one of the advisors. Scott, one of the coordinators there, told me to tell you they are friendly and offer many English language programs, including lots of summer programs. Loads of other colleges also offer programs; you can even apply directly in the country. The important thing is to take advantage of the opportunity. College is the time in our lives when we have a chance to define ourselves as adults. Why not write your definition in bold? You will probably never again in your life have a comparable chance to sink your teeth into anything like this.

When I saw the gang after so many years this weekend I was amazed to get along with them so well. They still crack me up; they still show me up. It makes me happy to think of how many fine people I have come to know during these times, how much fun I have had with them and how much they have taught me. Take your chances.


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