As a junior in my fall semester at Kansas University, I was not what one would consider "cultured." I ordered chicken fingers at every restaurant, read best-selling American novels and spent my time with my friends of more than 10 years. My knowledge of history did not extend beyond North American borders; my appreciation for art was limited to Claude Monet's "Water Lilies," and my sole exploration into the origin of thought was my reading of "The Simpsons and Philosophy."
And then I studied abroad; and I won't say it changed everything, but it changed a lot.
I attended the KU Humanities and Western Civilization program in spring 2005, where I lived with fellow KU students in Florence, Italy, and Paris. I studied Western civilization, art history and European studies. I was taught by KU professors and learned indirectly from the Italians and the French, two different cultures for which I have great respect and admiration.
In Italy, I read Dante Alighieri and visited his old apartment, studied the architecture of the Duomo Cathedral and climbed to the top and studied Renaissance art and stood in front of Michelangelo's "David." I was interacting with my subjects of study in unimaginable and exciting ways, and my learning improved because of it. I spent hours exploring the narrow streets, ate countless margherita pizzas and spent a small fortune on Italian paper. I frequented the cafes and restaurants around my apartment, and I developed relationships with Italians based solely on the minimal number of words we had in common. The city's relaxed, friendly, almost indulgent atmosphere allowed me to realize that the fast-paced, intense way I was used to living my life was not always best. Stores took three-hour siestas, so why couldn't I sit in an Italian courtyard and read "A Room With a View" for three hours?
In Paris, I read Voltaire and Descartes and spent hours walking around the intellectual paradise that is the Latin Quarter. I studied Napoleon and the many Louis' and marveled at the decadence of Versailles. I studied impressionism at the Musee d'Orsay, modern art at the Pompidou and classical sculpture at the Louvre. I used my previous knowledge of French to discuss discotheques with Parisian students and to successfully instruct a stylist how to cut my unruly hair. I developed a small obsession with the restaurants, people and shops of the Marais district. As an individual with horrible directional sense, I was amazed when I realized I had successfully mastered the metro system.
After being somewhat deprived of green space in Florence, I cherished the tree-lined boulevards and ate baguettes in the Luxembourg gardens. The city was initially overwhelming, but the exciting bustling streets and the city's appreciation for fine food, art and conversation was strongly appealing. Sitting in a cafe in Montmartre in an engaging conversation with a new friend made for a perfect evening.
I attempt to tell interested students the benefits of studying abroad without resorting to the "life-changing" cliches, but I always find it hard as it truly affects everyone differently. For me it honed my independence, stirred my intellect, defined key interests and has left me with an unquenchable desire for exploration. For everyone it is a time for discovery of unique places and personal characteristics.
Now I am a graduating senior, and although I still enjoy the occasional chicken finger and did read "The Da Vinci Code," I am certainly more "cultured." Shopping in the markets of Florence has ignited a passion for cooking with ingredients I would have previously deemed "gross." Visiting countless churches, cathedrals and places of worship cemented my Christian faith. My collection of art books from European museums encouraged me to revisit the Spencer Museum of Art, the Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City and the Chicago Art Institute. Interacting with people with radically different views than my own taught me sensitivity and consciousness. Studying abroad also left me for a greater appreciation of Lawrence. I don't feel so far removed from the streets of Paris when I have the option of five cafes within two blocks of Massachusetts Street, and the value Lawrence places on artistic expression and diversity of thought is reminiscent of Florence.
Studying abroad was the highlight of my college career, and even though I will begin to pay off the loans that funded my trip in a couple of months, I would gladly pay thousands more for my experiences. I would recommend that every incoming freshman (including my brother : ahem, Tim) at least consider the possibility. If you study abroad, I promise it will benefit and change you in ways you cannot imagine.
About the program
Approximately 1,000 KU students study abroad each year.
Options: The Office of Study Abroad administers more than 100 study abroad programs in more than 60 countries. Students can study in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia or Europe. Courses are taught in more than 20 different languages (including English).
Credit: Through the Office of Study Abroad, students remain enrolled at KU and receive resident KU credit, completing degree requirements in their major or core curriculum.
Cost: KU strives to keep costs down. Federal financial aid is applicable to study abroad programs, and in most cases, KU scholarships and grants apply to study abroad. Scholarships from the Office of Study Abroad are available to qualified applicants as well as national and regional study abroad scholarships.
Application deadlines: March 1 for the following fall academic year or summer; and Oct. 1 for the following spring, spring break and winter break programs.
For more information about KU study abroad programs, contact the Office of Study Abroad, Lippincott Hall, 1410 Jayhawk Blvd., Room 108, call 864-3742, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit online at www.studyabroad.ku.edu.
Source: KU Office of Study Abroad