21F, Across the Pond

Upperclassmen share their experiences studying abroad post-pandemic.

by Molly Stevens | 10/13/21 2:20am

studyabroad

Tahlia Mullen '22 explores London while on the Government FSP.

Source: Courtesy of Tahlia Mullen

As traditions are restored, friendships are rekindled and in-person classes are reinstated, the beginning of 21F marks Dartmouth’s return to a semi-normal campus. This historically significant term has afforded unique opportunities for connecting — and reconnecting — to Dartmouth’s community, not only for Dartmouth’s freshman but for all returning students. 

But what about those who have chosen to be away from campus this term? 

This fall, nine study abroad programs are currently underway. Originally, the College intended to run thirteen programs, but four were cancelled at the last minute. 

Joana Lame ’23, an Italian and chemistry double major, is currently on the Italian LSA+ program in Rome, where she and the six other students on the LSA and LSA+ programs are taking classes at the language school Italiaidea. 

A typical day for Lame starts with a jog by the river, followed by lunch and Italian lessons. Later in the day, Lame has free time, and she often spends the afternoons taking walks in the city’s center and going out with her friends at night. 

As an international student from Albania, Lame admitted that adjusting to life in Italy was not very difficult. 

“The thing is, because I’ve been living in Europe for most of my life, I didn’t really experience the culture shock that most of my friends experienced,” Lame said. “I found everything very homey, very familiar.” 

While in previous terms students on the Italian study abroad program lived in homestays, this year, Lame and her peers are staying in apartments. Lame reflected that living on her own has given her “more perspective on adulthood.” 

“Having your own house, living in your own apartment and being off-campus in a brand new city for you just gives you that perspective. It makes you realize whether it is easy for you to adapt or not, and I understand that it is very easy for me to adapt,” Lame said. 

As for the COVID-19 regulations in Rome, Lame has had no problem getting around and exploring the city — a stark contrast from her past year on campus as she was unable to return home to Albania due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

“I’m able to use the means of public transportation,” Lame said. “I’m able to move from one place to another, and the only thing I need to do is carry my mask.” 

Like Lame, Tahlia Mullen ’22, a government major on the international relations track, has no problem staying busy while abroad. Mullen is currently studying abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her program is one of the three that are taking place in London: the English and Creative Writing FSP, the History FSP and Mullen’s program, the Government FSP. 

Mullen has been busy with not only the three classes she is taking at LSE but also various Dartmouth-organized activities and excursions. She has toured Parliament and the financial district, visited museums, gone on trips to neighboring towns and spent lots of time experiencing London. 

According to Mullen, all the students who are studying abroad in London this term are living in the same apartment complex, where they have the opportunity to build and maintain a Dartmouth-specific community thousands of miles away from campus. Mullen remarked that after more than a year of online classes, she has met a lot of Dartmouth students on the study abroad programs who are eager to open up and make new friends. 

“Honestly, I keep comparing this experience to kind of like the beginning of freshman year, where everybody is so so friendly, like trying to make friends with everybody,” Mullen said. 

While Mullen admitted that she misses her friends, her clubs and her community at Foley House, an off-campus living learning community centered around cooking and communal living, in general, she doesn’t find herself missing the Dartmouth “bubble” very much. Rather, she feels that the pandemic has made her even more enthusiastic to take advantage of the study-abroad experience. 

“I think it’s always true that if you’re studying abroad, you do kind of want to do as much and see as much as possible,” Mullen said. “But I think that there’s even this additional kind of level of urgency and ‘Ah, we need to do all these things on our bucket list,’ because I think people are so conscious now that those kinds of privileges can be taken away in a second.”

However, Tulio Huggins ’23, who is currently studying at Queen Mary University of London on the English and Creative Writing FSP, has found that being away from Dartmouth’s campus has been a challenge — specifically during the fall term, when rush is happening and the ’25s are settling in.

“I feel [FOMO] just because it’s the fall term. If it was winter term, I probably wouldn’t be feeling that much FOMO,” Huggins said. 

This year, safety was a particularly important aspect of all study abroad programs. English professor Ivy Schweitzer, the director of Huggins’ program, has had the difficult task of balancing the safety issues surrounding COVID-19 while also allowing students the freedom to explore Europe. She noted that one or two of her students have been contact traced for COVID-19, and one student tested positive before they left for the trip and had to join the rest of the group after quarantining for 10 days. Schweitzer also has encouraged her students not to travel outside the U.K. 

“You always have to be wary in a city,” Schweitzer explained. “London is big and teeming and busy, and you have to be really careful. And so this is like a little extra layer of caution, and for me, as the director, anxiety.”

In general, Schweitzer noted that each program has different masking and testing guidelines based on the university and city. Masking requirements could vary even on a classroom to classroom basis. 

Although London may seem similar to the United States, given that there is not a language barrier, Schweitzer also described the necessary cultural adjustments students have had to face — everything from the cars driving on the other side of the road to the different, more independent academic system. 

Julian Kiyabu ’23, who is currently studying at University College London on the History FSP, has found the newfound independence of his program to be somewhat challenging. Kiyabu explained that his classes tend to have only one or two assignments that count for a grade, leading to a less structured academic curriculum than that of a typical Dartmouth course. 

“Independence is so glorified and longed for, right? But all of a sudden, when you’re an adult now and all that structure is taken away from you, it’s difficult to find that springboard to give yourself momentum and to get rolling with all your responsibilities,” Kiyabu said. 

For his part, Kiyabu has found it refreshing to be able to step away from certain aspects of Dartmouth’s social scene, and is excited to see how he will continue to grow and mature throughout his study abroad. For one of his classes, Kiyabu is currently working on an archival research project, where he is investigating the female police volunteers of World War I through a feminist lense. 

Ultimately, Kiyabu feels that any sense of Dartmouth FOMO is outweighed by the greater opportunities that lay before him. 

“The things that I’m doing here are things that matter, and FOMO can get to you, but I have great pride in what I do, and I find a lot of satisfaction in my work, so I’ve had all the fulfillment here that I need,” Kiyabu said. “You really feel yourself grow when you’re away.”

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