Jameson Ondrof | Wednesday, April 23, 2014
“I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good.”
The words used to reveal the Marauder’s Map to Harry Potter could very easily be applied to me and my experiences, as the past 12 months of traveling, experiencing new cultures and (occasionally) attending class come to an end. Between spending the summer in Jerusalem and the spring semester in London, it’s been a magical experience, and it truly is hard to put into words the impact that the two experiences have had on me. My time internationally has been like a map for my life, to extend the metaphor, as it’s allowed me to visit places of which I’ve only dreamed, meet new people and learn so much about myself and the world around me. Studying abroad has truly been the experience of a lifetime, and, in writing a eulogy for my time abroad, it only seems appropriate to attempt to explain why everyone who takes part in Notre Dame’s international programs rave about their experience.
First, and perhaps most obviously, study abroad is enriching because of the places to which one goes. It’s not hard to explain this one, as walking through the Colosseum, taking an evening cruise on the Seine, swimming in the Sea of Galilee and climbing to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral are all experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It’s a unique privilege to be able to see the places where important moments in history have happened and experience cultures different from that of the United States, all by one’s early 20s. The places and cultures that one experiences are a key part of the study abroad experience.
Secondly, study abroad is enriching because of the people one meets, both in the program and in everyday interactions. The students of Jerusalem Summer Program 2013 and the London Spring Semester 2014 are some of the most talented, outgoing, intellectually curious and fun people that I’ve met at Notre Dame, and I certainly think that my college experience would be lacking had I not met them. However, study abroad also affords one the opportunity to meet people outside of the programs, such as Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlers and Londoners down at the local pub. It’s the interactions with the locals through which the education really happens, where the worldview you had previously is challenged, stretched and altered by what they have to say and their life experiences.
Finally, study abroad is enriching because it changes you and certainly leads to a greater degree of self-knowledge, no matter how worldly or well traveled you may be before going abroad. For my part, Britain and Israel have taught me so much about myself, the world and life in general. In Israel, I learned about the struggle for peace in one of the world’s most volatile regions and the unfortunate realities of “facts on the ground,” all while visiting the places that are most holy to more than four billion people. Britain has taught me about surviving after college: from booking flights and hostels to grocery shopping on my own, I’ve become more self-sufficient. In addition, Britain has taught me about the political realities of the European Union, and my travels through Europe have reminded me of the wealth of cultures and places still left to explore, even after a semester abroad.
Overall, though, study abroad is enriching because of the mix of those three aspects and the special memories that mix creates. I’ll always remember the nights spent with friends at a pub discussing, among other things, Britain’s reluctance to join the European Union. I’ll never forget the weeklong trip through the Galilee with the Jerusalem program. These memories and experiences simply can’t be created under any other circumstances than during study abroad. I count myself as extremely lucky to have been able to take part in study abroad.
So, for those of you going abroad this summer or next year: enjoy it and make the most of the short time you’re away. For those of you considering doing it at some point, give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did.
As for me, at the end of my study abroad experience — I’m sad it’s ending, but I’m happy in the knowledge that I’ll be traveling in Europe and around the world again someday, because there are more incredible places to visit, fascinating people to meet and learning experiences to have.
So: Mischief managed.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.