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A call to go abroad

Joe Licandro | Wednesday, October 1, 2003

This is an impassioned plea to all Notre Dame students to consider the opportunity of a lifetime – spending a semester abroad. Whether it is London, Australia, Mexico, or Japan, there are a plethora of options available for Notre Dame students to get the most out of their college experience. After all, college is about more than taking exams and writing papers; it is also about taking advantage of opportunities to enrich ourselves. While I have found life on campus both academically and socially rewarding, all of this time pales in comparison to my recent semester in London.

Like many other students going abroad, I had my fair share of anxieties before departing for another country. After all, leaving my friends and the life I had grown accustomed to on campus would not be easy. At the same token, I did not want to look back five or ten years after graduation knowing that I passed up perhaps the only opportunity I will ever have to spend an extended period of time in another country.

After just my first walk down London’s busy city streets, all of my initial fears and apprehensions fell by the wayside. In just a few short weeks, I realized how truly fortunate I was to live and to learn in the most culturally diverse and exciting city in the world. And after my incredible four months came to a close, I realized that applying to the London Program was easily the best decision I had ever made in my life.

While I certainly learned a great deal from my classes, I learned far more about life. Living with six other guys in a three-room flat, shopping for my own groceries, cooking my own meals, and traveling all over Europe tends to do that to you. Not surprisingly, I left London with a new-found confidence that I will be able to succeed regardless of the twists and turns that come my way.

Downing yet another pint in a London pub, eating gelatto in Rome, touring the legendary St. Andrew’s golf course in Scotland, and kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland are all unforgettable experiences. (By the way, if you do not know what gelatto is then you need to find out. Gelatto is far and away the best ice cream in the world.) What I will remember the most about my semester abroad is not so much these ‘once in a life time’ traveling expeditions, but the new people I met. Before departing for London, I casually knew only five other participants in the program. Four and a half months later, I returned home with more friends than I could count. Friends I would never had made if I stayed on campus last semester.

There is no denying that dorm life at Notre Dame gives the university a special character not found at any other academic institution in the country, but dorm life has its limitations. Often times due to proximity’s sake, we tend to hang out with only those students from the sections of our dorms. While there is nothing wrong with this, we unknowingly close ourselves off from meeting new people and forming new friendships. Regardless of which program a participant chooses to attend, going abroad will force you to meet new people and to make new friends.

Best of all, parietals do not exist abroad. No, this is not yet another in a long line of columns complaining about parietals, but I will admit this much. It is nice to be like other college students for a change where parietals and segregated dorms do not exist. The horrible gender relations that exist on campus seem to magically disappear when boys and girls live across the hall from each other.

I realize that this semester will be particularly busy for you incoming freshman. You might struggle at first to find your niche. Do not worry, you eventually will. But once you settle in with your classes and grow accustomed to your new life at Notre Dame, do not forget about a golden opportunity that potentially awaits you. When you get the chance, talk to those juniors and seniors who are returning from semesters abroad. Be prepared to hear an echo of advice urging you to do the same.

Joe Licando is a junior political science major. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.