In the fall semester of 2005, I studied abroad in England at University College of London (UCL). As an English major, I chose London because of its historical connections to the English language and literature. I was excited by the prospect of studying in the same place where many of my favorite authors lived and worked. While I was there, I encountered a new way of understanding literature. I learned more about myself and about interacting with other cultures. Most of all, I discovered that being a Rutgers English major improved more than just my ability to understand literature.
Great Britain is the most popular destination for Rutgers English majors, even though programs are available in more than twenty countries. But no matter where students go, according to Melanie Andrich, the Associate Director for Rutgers Study Abroad, the experience of studying abroad helps them learn to be more independent and gives them new perspectives on their lives. “Leaving the United States for an extended period of time allows you to immerse yourself in another culture,” says Ms. Andrich, “and it also allows you to see your own culture and your own assumptions from a different angle, something you can’t get from conversations with international peers or from vacations.” Recognizing these benefits, the US Senate designated 2006 as “The Year of Study Abroad,” encouraging schools to expand these opportunities because, “studying abroad exposes students from the United States to valuable global knowledge and cultural understanding and forms an integral part of their education.”
At UCL, I started learning in a whole new way. I had a greater responsibility to study independently, because of a looser classroom structure. There, lectures take place only once a week, and the speakers rotate according to their expertise. Getting used to this extra freedom was the hardest part of acclimating myself to a different system; studying Shakespeare without a lot of class time or guidance was, for me, an intimidating task. Exploring my ideas on my own made me more conscious of what I had learned in previous classes, and broadened the way I think. It took more effort to complete my classes, but ultimately I felt prouder of my work than ever before.
Of course, studying abroad consists of a lot more than just studying. My “global knowledge” and “cultural understanding” also came from spending time with my classmates, and visiting new places. My residence hall was located in the West End, a convenient walk or tube ride from most London sights. One of my favorite places to go was Oxford Street, a main street packed with tourist shops but also with distinctly English retail stores, like Selfridges. I also loved visiting the museums. My favorite was the British Library, which houses one of the earliest published editions of Shakespeare’s plays. In most of the places I visited, I saw how Brits and tourists acted and interacted. I filled an odd role; I was not there as a tourist, but not there permanently either. Instead, I got to see British culture from both an insider’s and an outsider’s point-of-view.
Surprisingly, studying abroad taught me more about Rutgers and my own home as well. For me, Rutgers is no longer just a university in New Jersey. It is a place that has shaped many people’s lives, all over the world. I experienced this sense of connection first-hand when I attended an alumni dinner at the Globe Theater in November, sponsored by the Rutgers Club of London. Alumni, their families, and other study abroad students came together, and it amazed me just how large and diverse the Rutgers community actually is. One couple, Dennis and Carla Imbriglio Reustle (RC ’81 and DC ’83), even invited me to their home for Thanksgiving dinner. Participating in the alumni dinner and meeting the Reustles made me realize that no matter where in the world I happen to be, my experience at Rutgers will be part of me, and something I share with others.
Studying abroad, according to Ms. Andrich, has two main benefits: “a heightened awareness of and sensitivity to other people and other ways of life,” and, “an increased self-awareness and confidence.” My experience in London has given me just that. Even though I was taking part in the daily life of another culture, it renewed my excitement for being an English major at Rutgers, and deepened my appreciation for community connections. Studying abroad has expanded my sense of myself as a Rutgers student, and as an American.
Rutgers Study Abroad
The Rutgers Club of London
Rutgers Alumni Associations