Gillian Reinhard ’20
Do not bother studying abroad for a semester of your time at Trinity. Stay in Hartford. My opinion on this matter was gathered during my fall 2018 semester in Shanghai, but my perspective on this issue has also been molded by hearing about the experiences of my fellow classmates as they studied abroad around the world (and by “world,” I mean almost exclusively Western Europe, and maybe Australia or New Zealand).
I don’t believe every semester abroad is a waste of time. My argument does not apply to those who spend a semester at an English-language school (like Oxford, Cambridge, or St. Andrew’s, to name a few) or another school where they speak the predominant language of the university. I’ve also heard wonderful things about domestic programs in New York City or Washington, D.C.
I studied abroad on a program called “Trinity-in-Shanghai.” Though the name seems to promise a Trinity-like experience, it was anything but. I took four classes (Chinese film, Chinese language, Chinese business, Shanghai history) all designed for English-speaking students spending one semester abroad, which means the academics offered were sub-par. None of my classes had required homework, and each class culminated in a ten-page paper comparing my hometown (Cheshire, Connecticut) to Shanghai. There was almost no intellectual value in these classes. No one, students or professors, took anything seriously. Studying abroad for me was a pointless exercise, at least from an intellectual standpoint. This academic experience was not equitable in any sense to the classes I take at Trinity. In fact, I passed up several challenging classes offered in Hartford that I would have found both rewarding and intellectually engaging in favor of those fourteen weeks abroad.
When students study abroad for one semester in a country where they don’t speak (or are still learning) the language, they remain trapped in an unsatisfying purgatory—not quite tourist, but certainly not expat.
When I studied abroad in Shanghai, I quickly found the Western restaurants near me and stuck to them. I sought out the Chinese-nightclub equivalents to AD or Kappa Sig. and spent my weekends there—and my Tuesdays, and my Wednesdays, and my Thursdays. I didn’t make one Chinese friend organically. My friends who studied abroad in continental Europe (Spain, France, Italy) report extremely similar experiences. Many of them took the opportunity to travel to a new city in Europe each weekend. This simply would not be possible for a typical student at Trinity’s campus in Hartford. The coursework at Trinity is too rigorous to allow that much vacation time—but that’s entirely okay! That’s why we’re here, in college.
Students at Trinity often spend a semester abroad in places like Rome, Paris, Barcelona, or Shanghai for an “academic break.” Because of this, Trinity (and other colleges) must stop referring to these semester-long reprieves as “study abroad” and call them what they truly are, extended vacations. My time abroad junior year was the most exciting four months of my life. I truly thank Trinity for the opportunity I had to climb the Great Wall, visit the Shaolin Temple, and see the pandas in the Sichuan Province. However, I could have had enjoyed all these experiences over a three-week vacation during the summer, without sacrificing the academic challenge and rigor Trinity College, in Hartford, provides. Studying abroad is the epitome of privilege—I blew through thousands of dollars on food and alcohol while actively neglecting the true reason we are all in college, to undertake serious coursework and intellectual growth.
This article is not written in opposition to traveling the world or experiencing new cultures. In fact, I would argue that those are the two most important ingredients to a well-lived life. I absolutely loved my time in China and hope that I can go back someday to see the amazing sites I had the opportunity to visit. But, there’s no good reason to spend an entire semester of your already limited time at Trinity in pointless classes designed for temporary, international students, when you could be in Hartford reaping the benefits of caring professors and the mission of our small, liberal arts college.
If you would like to experience a different culture and travel, by all means, go for it! Of course there is immense value in spending a prolonged period abroad, beyond the three-week summer vacation I previously described. Spend a gap year volunteering in France, teaching English in Taiwan, or enjoying the beauty of the Caribbean, but don’t waste the valuable academic resources that Trinity offers to spend an entire semester in a European party destination.