Many UCLA students get the chance to live out every wanderer’s dream: taking classes for college credit in another country.
Study abroad is a common phenomenon – the UCLA study abroad office reports that about 25% of students decide to study abroad each year, often during the summer or fall. Thus, many students know someone who has studied abroad, and the social media posts certainly paint a magical picture of beautiful views and exciting adventures with very little time spent hitting the books.
However, the study abroad experience isn’t just the scenic views you might scroll through in your feed. The Quad spoke to students who have taken classes overseas to get to the true experience, and to clear away some of the myths about studying abroad.
For one thing, social media and crazy stories from friends often fail to portray the many hours that students actually spend studying while in another country.
Classes abroad can be challenging, sometimes more so than a typical course at UCLA.
Wyatt Frykman, a third-year biology student, spent his summer taking the Physics 5 series in Dublin, Ireland. He said that the experience differed from a typical quarter at UCLA, and from what he expected.
“I would say it was in some ways more intensive, and in some ways less intensive (than UCLA coursework),” Frykman said, “There would be a lot of studying leading up to the tests, which was more intensive, but between tests there were no other assignments.”
During the eight-week program, Frykman and other University of California students had to learn a year’s worth of physics material.
However, Frykman said that despite the heavy course load, there was plenty of time to socialize and immerse himself in Ireland’s culture. The program planned weekend trips to a local farm and to the famous Cliffs of Moher, as well as more traditional experiences, such as a “high tea” on campus. Frykman also enjoyed the opportunity to travel to other countries on the weekends.
Aside from course material, the accommodations abroad were another source of surprise for some students who were expecting something similar to UCLA’s undergraduate housing.
Alex Nechaev, a third-year human biology and society student, also spent her summer taking physics in Dublin. Nechaev said that while she expected a dorm-style accommodation based on what she had heard from her friends, instead students were housed in an apartment where each student had their own single.
Both Nechaev and Frykman shared the sentiment that the food in Dublin was subpar and included too many potato options. Luckily, they each had a kitchen at their disposal, allowing them to cook independently.
Meg Mahoney, a third-year human biology and society student, spent five weeks this summer in Madrid, Barcelona, and Granada, Spain, studying Spanish arts and culture, and was not expecting to do so much outside of the classroom.
Her classes involved going into the city and exploring the culture, and Mahoney said she felt that immersing herself this way was the best way to learn its language and culture.
“I wasn’t expecting (the program) to give me so many opportunities (to experience different cultures) – I would not have necessarily done all these things on my own,” Mahoney said.
In this program, the students stayed in luxurious hotels and spent their nights eating “tapas” in the city, she said. On the weekends that Mahoney was free, she visited beach towns in Spain.
The students all shared their appreciation for the city they stayed in as well as its locals. Many argue that American tourists don’t always have the best reputation abroad, but studying abroad gives students more time to immerse themselves in the local culture.
“Everyone in Europe was friendly and welcoming and always excited to hear about our experience abroad,” Frykman said, “Oftentimes locals would recommend their favorite places to go – we were not treated as tourists.”
Studying abroad provides a great opportunity to expand your social circle, though not necessarily with locals from every corner of the globe. New acquaintances may be from closer to home than one would guess.
“I definitely knew quite a few people going into the program,” Frykman said. “But coming out of it, I would say that I met a ton of kids from other UC schools, as well as UCLA kids within my major that I had never interacted with before.”
The type of program you settle on can affect the people you meet on your journey. For example, the Spanish arts and culture program consisted of exclusively UCLA students, while the physics program was available to other UC schools.
Many programs offered by UCLA are either restricted to UCLA students or UC students, so if you want to meet people from schools across the nation, there are other option such as the Council on International Educational Exchange or Semester at Sea, which are popular nationwide. These can be great programs for meeting people, but it’s worth considering that it may be more difficult for non-UC program units to transfer over.
Another potential hassle with studying abroad is the struggle to find an apartment subletter. The UCLA Sublets/Apartments Facebook page is flooded with offers from students who want to spend a quarter abroad without having to cover their rent while away.
In the first week of September, my roommate’s fall subletter backed out and left us scrambling to find a replacement. Luckily, we were quickly able to find a new subletter whose housing situation had just fallen through.
Everyone has a different experience with study abroad, with every journey varying greatly based on program, duration and location. Supposed myths and realities aside, the adventure is usually worthwhile for those looking to get ahead on coursework in a new setting.