November 25, 2002

Spotlight On: Cornellians Abroad

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Hundreds of Cornell students will be changing more than their class schedules next semester as they travel to countries around the world to complete a semester abroad in a foreign county.

Anywhere from 500 to 600 students from Cornell go abroad annually, said Beatrice Szekely, associate director of the Cornell Abroad Office.

According to Szekely, “By the time the senior class walks, it’s between 12 to 15 percent of the class.”

Szekely stressed the importance of finding a program that fits students’ plans and progress. “What we’re interested in is an intellectual connection,” she said.

When choosing a place to go abroad, students have the option of either choosing a program sponsored by Cornell or one sponsored by another university. Szekely said that roughly an equal number of students choose each of the two options.

“What matters is that the students profile themselves to Cornell Abroad and work with their faculty advisor and study abroad advisor in their college,” Szekely said.

Most students go abroad during the spring semester of their junior year, according to the Cornell Abroad Office. However, students are not limited to this particular time period.

Cornell sponsors a variety of programs abroad, including the Cornell in Rome program, sponsored by the School of Art, Architecture and Planning and the Emory, Duke, Cornell (EDUCO) program in Paris. Other Cornell-sponsored programs include study opportunities in Sweden, Nepal and Spain, among others.

Jessie Jablon ’03 and Sheerin Florio ’03 both traveled abroad and now are involved with the Cornell Abroad Office, working to advise students who are considering a semester abroad.

As part of a small program called the Hansard’s Scholar Program, Jablon — a government major — traveled to the United Kingdom.

Jablon said that during her semester abroad, she “took courses at the Department of Continuing Adult Education at the London School of Economics and had a parliamentary internship with a member of Parliament, Mr. Gregory Barker.”

“I lived with 17 other ‘Hansard scholars’ in central London and between school and the internship, was constantly buzzing all over London,” Jablon added.

Jablon said that there were many beneficial aspects to her experience in London.

In addition to class structure and change of pace from Cornell life, Jablon said that the experiences gained while working for a member of Parliament were invaluable.

“I was able to get a behind-the-scenes view of a Parliamentarian government, meet various ministers, lords, Members of Parliament, attend launch parties for the BBC, attend surgery (like an open-house) at my member of Parliament’s constituency of Bexhill and Battle in Southern England and conduct interviews on behalf of my member of Parliament with various organizations like Greenpeace and Waste Watch,” she said.

To round out her experience, Jablon also backpacked for six weeks throughout Europe.

Florio also traveled to Europe, spending a summer in Avignon, France, and a fall semester in Nantes, France. Florio chose a program through an outside study abroad company because “the program emphasized linguistic immersion through living with families and studying at local universities in a city where English is seldom heard on the street,” she said.

According to Florio, before her seven-month stay abroad, she took classes that would prepare her for her trip. “I took as many French language and history courses as I could after I decided that I wanted to go to France. I took three courses taught in French during the semester prior to studying abroad,” she said.

Florio said one of the most positive aspect about her trip was the improvement in her French language skills. “My ability to speak the language improved dramatically over the first several months that I was in France, which then allowed me to interact with French people and make French friends more easily,” she said.

According to Szekely, there are “definitely” some safety concerns in traveling abroad because of the “overall insecure climate in the world today.”

The U.S. State Department offers travel cautions concerning some countries, which students should take into consideration, Szekely said.

“Security was technically a concern, since I was there during the Sept. 11 attacks…[however] I never felt threatened in Nantes,” Florio said.

She added, “The American Embassy in Rennes (the closest embassy to Nantes) sent the American students weekly, sometimes daily updates on the situation. Even though the French government was hyper-vigilant in its defense against terrorist attacks, fear of future attacks was still present among many of us. We felt very reassured by the extra information supplied to us.”

Both Florio and Jablon were so impressed by their abroad experiences that they decided to work with the Cornell Abroad Office as part of the Student Information Team that advises students considering going abroad.

“I decided over the summer, while working as a market research analyst for a study abroad company, that I wanted to take a more active role in promoting study abroad on campus,” Florio said.

Their responsibilities vary as a part of the Student Information Team.

“I spend approximately six to eight hours a week, chatting with all sorts of people, giving advice from my personal life as well as advising about the plethora of options that exist for study abroad,” Jablon said.

“Besides office work, we travel to residencies throughout Cornell as well as to Greek houses, special program houses, various organizations and an array of other Cornellian venues to publicize Cornell Abroad and just get the word out,” she added.

Florio said that the best advice she could give students contemplating going abroad was that students should “plan ahead and take risks. Think about going somewhere other than the obvious popular spots for foreign study. It is tremendously beneficial to immerse yourself in the local culture and it is much easier to do so when you are not surrounded by Americans like yourself.”

Jablon expressed similar sentiments. “You are given a chance to test yourself [in going abroad], learn about who you’ve become and what you’d like to change,” she said.

Jablon added, “It may or may not change your perspectives on life but it will ultimately make you a more well-rounded, culturally aware and multi-dimensional individual.”

Archived article by Kate Cooper