Study Abroad Considerations

For our P’23s who are new to the Daily Deac, let me introduce you to my oft-mentioned concept of Column A vs. Column B. Imagine a piece of paper, with Column A on the left and Column B on the right. Both columns have some options underneath them for you to choose.

So often in life, we want to have everything all at once. We want to pick something from Column A and Column B, not just one of the two. But life does not always give us a choice with ands, it sometimes gives us a choice of ors.

As students consider whether to go abroad (and which semester), they might have a Column A-Column B with pros of going abroad in a particular semester.

Column A – fall semester abroad during junior year

better weather (maybe?)

more of my friends will be abroad in the fall

ability to be back in the spring for basketball season, Greek recruitment, etc.

Column B – spring semester abroad junior year

can choose my roommate for the fall semester

can choose my residence hall for the fall semester

easier fall semester registration because so many other juniors are abroad (maybe?)

here for football season

You get the idea.

Each of those pros above also has a con. If a pro of going abroad in the fall semester is that you are with a lot of your friends (who are also abroad), a con is that when you return, you don’t get first pick at a residence hall, and may have to fill vacancies that are opening up as other people depart for the spring semester.

In this case, students need to decide whether to go with Column A or Column B. But they must be realistic with their expectations and anticipate the consequences of their decisions.

So for incoming first years and rising sophomores, they need to be thinking about questions like:

How badly do I want to go abroad?

Am I willing to compromise on which semester I go?

Will I have such a good time that it will be worth it even if I am placed in a room/residence hall that has a vacancy?

Would I be better thinking about going abroad in the spring, that way I can be on campus the fall of my junior year (and be able to select the room of my choice)?

Would I be willing to live in a residence hall that is not as in demand (but there will be a double open and I can pull in my best friend), or is the most important consideration the residence hall and I don’t care if I live with a stranger?

And similarly for our rising juniors going abroad, they need to be mindful of the trade offs they made: I wanted to go with my group of best friends, and I accept that I might not be able to live in my first choice of residence hall when I return. They also need to be open to the possibility that sometimes not getting what you want actually works out well. Sometimes being paired in a room with someone you didn’t know previously might be the beginning of an amazing new friendship you would never have discovered otherwise.  And if you can live for 15 weeks in a foreign country with a foreign culture, it stands to reason you can stomach living with another Wake student 🙂

Parents and families, you can help your students understand how to think through decisions – and remind that few decisions are permanent!  You can talk about how there are always outcomes of decisions – some are positive, some are negative, some are neutral, and for the rest of their lives, they are going to have to make decisions where they can’t get Column A AND Column B at the same time…but it’s OK! We all have to prioritize in life and try to get the most of what we want and (hopefully) the least of what we don’t want.

With decisions, there will always be compromises, and sacrifices, but also wins. And as your Deacs learn that, the more comfortable they might be thinking ahead, planning, and making those choices with more confidence and being realistic about outcomes.


— by Betsy Chapman ’92, MA ’94

Categories: campus life