My rush conversations sophomore year were ... complicated. Once the sister of X sorority and I got past the standard complications of my double name (Yeah ... I go by both ... no ... no hyphen ... yeah. It's weird), the conversation inevitably turned to where I had been the previous fall.
"I was studying in London."
"Oh, cool! Were you on the govy/history/theater FSP?"
"No, I did a non-Dartmouth program."
"Oh... ok! Umm... why?"
At this point I was pretty certain said sister was thinking, "Who is this many-named, antisocial, Dartmouth-hating freak?" Maybe I'm exaggerating. But many students do look askance at my mention of my un-Dartmouth abroad program experience. Why would one want to miss exporting the Dartmouth culture overseas?
Part of it stems from my own indecision, I guess. Freshman year, I distinctly recall listening to one conversation of my well-traveled peers in which they compared the relative merits of traveling through Italy, France and Africa. "What about you, Jean Ellen?" "Umm... I went to LA once for a week?"
After hearing about this student's favorite restaurant in Vienna and that student's weekends in London, I was ready to go ... everywhere. I had years of travel experience to catch up on and only one term in which to do it. When I looked into Dartmouth programs, however, I found that either a) they didn't let you travel outside of the country much or, more importantly, b) based on the cost of studying in said country with Dartmouth tuition, travel would be completely out of the question. I needed to figure out how to work the system.
I admit that choosing a non-Dartmouth program has its drawbacks. No complaining together about host families. No FSP reunion dinners. But if you are strapped for cash and ready for the continental circuit, the non-Dartmouth program may be the way to go.
First point of advice: don't talk to the Off-Campus Programs office. As intuitive as that move may seem, you are only going to get an earful about why only Dartmouth programs are truly Part Of The Dartmouth Experience. No, you need the registrar. They keep all the contraband glossy booklets on other study programs that Off-Campus Programs doesn't want you to see.
The registrar can also help you navigate the complications of getting transfer credit once you have chosen a program. Dartmouth, in its decentralized wisdom, does not have a standard policy on transfer credit, instead leaving decisions to each department. So although one department may be happy for you to expand your horizons while continuing your studies, others may not be so willing (history department, I'm looking, grudgingly, at you.)
I chose to study at University College London, coordinating my abroad plans with two of my friends from high school so I wouldn't be completely alone (always good to bring a few travel buddies). I made other friends once in London, of course: my Indian flatmate who made to-die-for Saag; the German classmate who couldn't figure out how to write a five-page paper because she had never written one in Germany shorter than fifteen; the study-abroad student from Richmond who got as excited as I did about Red Beer One Pound Night at the campus pub. (Don't ask ... just try it. Amazing.) My professors also provided endless entertainment. My flamboyantly gay Scottish linguistics professor, for example, used sample sentences about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena Warrior Princess.
When not diagramming sentences about fantasy's power women or tutoring Germans in the beauty of brevity, I was finally trekking through the countries of my classmates' past summer vacations. I won't bore you with the details of why and how these trips around the continent were amazing. Just go yourself! And don't be afraid to go by yourself. Exploring the world outside of Dartmouth's study abroad safety net can be a good thing. Don't worry -- the bubble will be ready to welcome (swallow) you again when you return.