FSPs for Dummies

by Dan Knecht | 11/5/03 6:00am

One of the most enticing aspects about Dartmouth is the opportunity to study abroad. Almost half of all Dartmouth students choose to go abroad at least once during their four years here. Economics students have the opportunity to study at Oxford, English majors can analyze literature in Ireland or Trinidad. Biology buffs can even explore the jungles of Central America. Pretty amazing, right? Perhaps you just want to avoid one of those infamous Hanover winters that only an Inuit would love. The LSA, language study abroad program, allows students to stow off to Rome, Barcelona or Toulouse for a term and grapple with a new language. Yes, Dartmouth has more Foreign Study programs than Ben and Jerry's has ice cream flavors. It is indeed quite alluring, but before you sprint over to Wentworth Hall to pick up an application for an FSP or two, there are a few caveats that might make you think twice.

For those programs that place you with a native family, beware of what you write on your family preference sheet. Don't get me wrong, sharing a household with a foreign family can be a fantastic experience, perhaps even one of the most enjoyable facets of living abroad. However, there are a few common snags. Avoid them and you'll be living it up abroad. First, never state that you would prefer to live with a "large family." This euphemism masks a sinister plan to snag nave Dartmouth students into thankless baby-sitting on weekends. On the other hand, if you hope to forge a congenial relationship with your host family, don't admit that you are independent. You can always whine and complain that your host family fawns over you and pines for you in your absence, but getting a frigid, deadbeat host mother is another story.

Now that you've ensured that you wouldn't be stuck with the Adams family, onto bigger things. Prior to departing, rid yourself of any conspicuous American clothing. Leave your American flag t-shirts at home. Would you wear a Yankees cap in Boston? I doubt it. Just think what would happen to you were to gallivant around the casbah of Fez, Morocco donning one of those thug-styled Yankees jackets. Let's just say you might not make it to see next year's World Series. When you have the opportunity to talk to the natives, steer clear of political talk, especially that which pertains to American foreign policy. Many natives assume you are a member of Bush's executive cabinet, and thus hold you personally responsible for all the actions taken by our government. Feel free to dispel this myth. Most of all, no matter what your political inclination, never say you like or agree with Bush or his ideas. This is strictly taboo. Also, avoid criticizing the native's country; even though he or she hurls anti-American invectives that would make Jacques Chirac blush. While some Dartmouth students falsely claim Canadian citizenship under such situations; I recommend you stand firm against such idiocy -- a smile goes a long way to defuse such hostile tte--ttes.

You ask about the dynamics of students. In the past, FSP students tend to herd together from day one, thus forming hermetically sealed, gaudy tour groups. Some brave students will intermittently venture out solo into the ominous real world, but these forays are brief and usually result in amusing story, and occasionally scandalous. Unfortunately for those yearning to immerse themselves completely in their foreign culture of choice must break free from their FSP group shackles. Join a gym, or immerse yourself in extracurricular community classes be creative in branching out. However, roaming the back allies of an Italian city under moonlight is a less than ideal way to make new friends.

Let's face it, no matter how you look at the FSP experience, it an amazing opportunity to learn abroad, meet some interesting people and take a respite from the occasional monotony of Hanover. Just use some common sense while away from Dartmouth. Not everyone is as friendly and innocuous as Larry, or as harmlessly inquisitive as the Hinman box mailmen. Just heed some valued advice and you'll have a truly unforgettable experience.