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.
Pete: I saw this headline and as an alum I was sad to see it. It seems that the author may have picked the wrong place to study abroad and or did not research the quality of academics offered at the Shanghai site. My experience could not have been any different. The academics were rigorous, and I met a ton of friends at the School of Economics and the Center for European Studies in Maastricht, NL. My friends were from Sweden, Spain, Norway, Finland, Moldova, France, Belgium, Romania, Switzerland and of course the Netherlands. We drank beer and wine, debated the NATO bombing of Serbia, talked US/Europe relations spoke about our families and much more. In fact, this past summer we all got together for a big reunion in Amsterdam and we then took the train to Maastricht. These are lifelong friendship forged over a short period of time and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. Honestly, at the time the thought of coming home to the US was awful but I missed Trinity and my friends in Hartford too. Again, it is unfortunate that the author had this experience academically, but I can say without a doubt it was one of the best periods of my life. I was at least happy to read that the author got out and saw some cultural sites in China. You are only twenty once. Enjoy it.
Andrew Terhune: It seems to me that the writer brought this on herself viz: 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.
I went to Bogota, Colombia specifically to learn Spanish in a setting where English was hardly spoken. It was among the best experiences of my college days and I still appreciate and use the facility I acquired in Spanish more than 40 years ago.
As the writer of the article, I wanted to respond to both of these comments. Andrew is absolutely correct. My experience abroad was a combination of my own choices and the Trinity program I was on. I would argue that it requires an extremely motivated and internationally conscious student on a non-Trinity program independent of friends or familiar classmates (like in the Netherlands or Colombia) to develop significant language acquisition, engage in serious academics, and have a truly cultural immersive experience that goes beyond “vacation.” That student, unfortunately, was not me at that point in my life, and I think that many of the about 60% of Trinity students who study abroad are not necessarily that student, either. I don’t think Trinity and other similar schools with such high percentages of students studying abroad need to end such a wonderful opportunity to travel, but, they should constantly vet the programs they send their students on. Little changes Trinity could take would have made a huge difference for my experience. For example, checking classes to make sure they are challenging, putting special emphasis on ensuring language-learning classes are valuable (my class was frequently cancelled and unproductive), and moving students out of off-campus, all-American housing. On a separate note, as a long time Tripod staff member, thank you both for your comments! This is exactly why Trinity maintains a student newspaper– to engage in important conversations pertinent to the College.
Gillian Reinhard ’20