Before I go all out on my perspective, let me introduce myself as Anna Dutkowsky, a junior at New York University. Jumping at the opportunity to be in such an immense global community as NYU, I am on my second consecutive year studying at NYU Paris… and loving every minute of it.
Entering my second year in this intimate study abroad setting, I feel fairly well that I have a good idea of what NYU Paris is all about, even if I am, so to speak, a “reject” of NYU in New York. Only on my own terms. That being said, there are other students here who may feel like NYU in New York itself rejected them. Those are the freshmen, a surprisingly large percentage of NYU Paris that make up around 76 of the 230 total student body (encompassing undergrads, graduate students, and the freshmen).
Freshmen… abroad? That sounds like an oxymoron. Yet articles are starting to pop up reinforcing that universities like NYU are not alone in sending a portion of their incoming class abroad. This is reflective of the increasing need to build a global persona. Never has it been so important to have a well-rounded sense of the world. Sure, you could stay in the U.S. your entire life; but your resume and ultimate view will be that much more outstanding in this job market if you spent some time in a different country… and even more so if in a different language!
Unfortunately, the hard truth is the articles’ focus on university greed. And fairly enough, on the disorientation of the freshmen who are expecting to go from high school to a traditional college campus where they can build their lifelong friendships and establish a community. That’s good and all, but I’m going to be controversial and say that it’s hard to know exactly what you want when you’re 18 (or 17, in my case) and are leaving home for the first time. Having spent time abroad observing culture differences, I find the popular European concept of taking a year or two off before college that much more rewarding.
My freshman year was spent in a suffering state at the hands of stereotypically horrid roommates and a difficulty making friends. A university like NYU, which enrolls over 50,000 students total, is a sink or swim kind of place. If you are not into the typical social games, it can be really hard to find your place. Within three months of college, I had decided I needed another clean slate and applied to spend a year in Paris. Just long enough to start over, become settled without having to pick up after four months, make new friends to bring back to New York, and truly embrace the culture and language. There was no doubt in my mind to accept when I was admitted in the spring. Even a semi-better roommate experience at the time couldn’t stop my ambitions.
I spent the next year enjoying Paris to the max. So much so that I ditched all connections I had made to NYU in New York freshman year and, after careful deliberation and planning, decided to stay another full year. Unusual, yes, but that’s just how I roll. And for the first time in my college life, I felt like I truly belonged in a place and culture.
I also spent the last year astonished by the freshmen I met. Tackled with the unusual dilemma of spending their freshman year in an abroad site instead of conventional dorm rooms, many jumped on the experience. Even those who started on the wrong foot found their footing quickly. It’s hard to have such college expectations and then let them all go for a year. And this group knew that they were lucky (or whatever you want to call it) for having the opportunity.
You can spout all the statistics on greedy universities overflowing with enrollees that they “dump” some of the new class in abroad sites. Or that the freshmen will be socially hindered when they ultimately return to their home campuses. But I’m going to disagree on this one.
When these students are accepted into NYU’s Liberal Studies Program putting them abroad, they have a choice whether or not to take it. They have to weigh the decision to either give up the dream of strutting down New York’s streets for a year (a year which they will spend in an equally glamorous and exciting city) or go the safe route. From what I’ve seen, it’s the ones who are up for the challenge that take it.
That’s not to say that it comes without nerves. Particularly if one has never been abroad. But nerves only mean that new things are coming. And new experiences can be incredible. Take some of the freshmen I knew last year. Their RA arranged a team of them to run in several Parisian marathons. And the freshmen, at least at NYU Paris, come so fresh from high school that they aren’t jaded from living in New York yet. So every experience means something special.
I could babble on forever on the benefits of freshmen studying abroad immediately, but perhaps the most efficient way is to make a list.
- No gap in between language classes. Most of us took language classes in high school. Going abroad immediately takes full advantage of the direct transition, not allowing gap years to interfere with language learning. The best way to give fluency a fighting chance!
- No roommates. Who says that roommates are the only way to make friends? At NYU Paris, at least, the freshmen are all put in a residence hall (not owned by NYU but rather a public residence for students of all nationalities). They don’t have the apartment option that upperclassmen have. All of them, however, have their own mini apartment within the residence.
- There’s a guaranteed community. Within a few weeks, every single freshman knew each other, also because they have their own isolated classes at the center that aren’t with upperclassmen. The shared residence and RA activities encourage interaction and everyone bonds over their unusual experience.
- Your eyes are opened early so that you can take more advantage of your upperclassmen years. Too many upperclassmen realize too late that they’d like to spend more time abroad. As soon as they fall in love with a country, they are flung back to New York to regimented academic plans that don’t allow for more time abroad. I was lucky enough to first go abroad my sophomore year – early enough that my academics were still flexible to allow for two whole years (unheard of, by the way). Also, so many core classes can be fulfilled here if not already done in New York.
- Going back to New York, although culturally hard, is so much easier. Imagine starting your freshman year with a whole group of friends, inside jokes, and a sense of security. Studying abroad allows the freshmen to build a community among themselves to take back with them. While they certainly shouldn’t quarantine themselves to those circles, it’s a comfortable security net that gives them confidence when returning to a now-foreign place. And they’ll always have Paris!
- There is no better time than the present. No boyfriends or girlfriends (except perhaps those still lingering from high school) or strong friend groups to feel guilty or sad about leaving. There’s nothing to miss yet, so the world is yours to do as you wish!
- No extra tuition paid (for NYU). Yep, outside of transportation and living costs, it’s the same price as NYU in New York… only in a foreign country!
- Did I mention it’s Paris (or Florence, London, Shanghai, etc.)?
In short, freshman year abroad: a once-in-a-lifetime chance to discover what you want out of college with three more years of absolute freedom ahead of you. Why not?