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Study Abroad, Take II: Part 1

March 19, 2017

As prospective students, one of the most compelling factors in leading me to choose University of Richmond was our exceptional study abroad program. If you look back to my very first Spider Diary of all time, you’ll learn that I initially decided on UR because of the opportunities it affords for travel. In 2016, Business Insider named UR one of the Top 15 colleges and universities for study abroad. Even coming in freshman year, I was certain that I wanted to spend both semesters of my junior year somewhere else in the world. And while confident that may sound, at the beginning of this fall I still had many questions: Is it better to work through an affiliate program (and organization that establishes study abroad programs primarily for American students) or directly enroll in an institution? Do I want to spend both semesters in the same place, or experience two different programs? To where in the world am I most drawn? What universities will allow me to earn credits towards my majors?

I spent the first few months of the fall semester navigating through all of the potential options. I talked to friends who had been to various programs. I attended the study abroad fair hosted by the Office of International Education. I met with two different study abroad advisors. I talked to numerous professors and my academic advisor. I poured over all of the information on the study abroad portal (https://studyabroad.richmond.edu/index.cfm?FuseAction=Programs.AdvancedSearch_ that details all of the programs we offer. Believe me when I say my interests ran the gamut. At different points I seriously considered New Zealand, India, Senegal, Poland, Italy, and South Africa. When it was all said and done, I submitted an application with my first choice as spending both semesters at Sciences Po in Paris and my second choice as Charles University in Prague. Yup.

In my next entry, I’ll get into more detail about the specific process of applying to and preparing to attend my university of choice, but here I’d like to walk through my thought process in choosing my first choice school. I have to admit my visit to the first study abroad advisor in the OIE was most helpful. At the time I walked in, my intentions were to spend the fall in Perugia, Italy at a food studies program and spring in Krakow, Poland at Jagiellonian University. However, she asked me to asses simple but important factors: What are your main goals for study abroad? What type of area (rural, urban, suburban) would you prefer to live in for your semester/year? From where will you be able to transfer credits? How will your study abroad experience help you achieve long term professional and academic goals?

I guess I was already skeptical of my choices because one of my primary goals for study abroad was to work on my French...Moreover, at the time I was fairly certain that I wanted to be in a medium to large urban area, something preferably no smaller than Richmond, at least for one semester. Both of the cities that I had in mind were on the smaller side of things. I’d be able to transfer a handful of political science credits from Jagiellonian, but very few if anything towards my majors from the semester in Italy. And well, I guess particularly at the time I didn’t have articulate professional goals but definitely had an interest in food studies? Maybe?

Long story short, my advisor took one look at my situation and kindly told me that I should probably reassess...maybe meet with her colleague who focuses on France and the rest of Western Europe. After my first meeting with him, once muddled and terribly confusing decisions because perfectly clear. We literally have an exchange with the Paris Institute for Political Studies. I’d be some sort of maniac if I didn’t at least give Sciences Po some serious attention. In addition, he helped me discover some of the other criteria I had for a program--I truly did want to do a direct enroll, and I wanted to be in a serious, rigorous academic climate (not to brag, but it’s ranked fourth in the world for Political Science and International Studies). That aside, I had fallen utterly head over heels for Paris over the summer while on the summer study abroad trip to LaRochelle. Shortly after deciding that I’d apply to Sciences Po for fall at the very minimum, I had conversations with some of my professors and mentors in the French department, and they hinted at the benefits of a year in the same place for making lasting friendships and having the maximum benefit on language development. Sealed the deal. I still remember very clearly texting my family who had spent the better part of the past year and a half hearing my indecisive musing over the pros and cons of different possibilities. It’s not unlike figuring out what classes you’ll take or what major you’ll choose: it’s a very big deal, but you have plenty of people around who can guide you in the right direction and there are so many worthy choices, it’s often hard to go wrong!

Greetings future Spiders! My name is Ellie, I'm 20 years old and born and bred in Richmond, Virginia. I'm a serious student and die-hard member of the Richmond Red Hots, the womens club ultimate frisbee team here. In my precious free time I enjoy jogging, reading anything, and afternoon naps. Other hobbies are traveling, hiking, and pretending to be a foodie. Some of my preferences include black coffee, Saturday morning farmers markets, and music in foreign languages that I do not know. My academic interests are broad and constantly changing, however, as of now, my majors are Political Science and French. My two most ambiguous and most descriptive qualities are wanderlust and indecision.

Over the course of the year, some of my goals as a Spider Diarist include exposing little-known or underappreciated things on campus and around Richmond, giving a thorough review/copious list of suggestions for food and coffee in campus and around Richmond, and portraying a genuine first year experience here at UR in terms of campus culture, everyday life, and landmark events. Tag along as I rediscover Richmond from the point of view as a college student in my hometown. I'm so proud of the RVA and always excited to show off the wealth of things it has to offer to out-of-town friends as well as this blog's prospective student readership!

Why UR?

I am utterly, absolutely, and almost vehemently undecided about what exactly (or for that matter, vaguely) I want to do with my life. But hey, that's why I chose a liberal arts college. Even within that vein, though, there are a lot of liberal arts colleges out there, so back to "Why UR?" The University of Richmond is small enough to allow for intimate class sizes, in-depth peer-to-peer interactions, and strong relationships with professors.  At the same time, it is large enough to attract a student body with diverse ideas and backgrounds who all contribute different perspectives and ideas within the classroom environment and campus community. Richmond provides an indisputably spectacular academic experience, but the opportunities that the University offers to all of it's students are what really sold me. From volunteer positions and internships to research jobs and study abroad trips, the level of quality and personal attention that Richmond provides is unmatched. My crazy love with Richmond, the city, aside, UR is unique in (atleast) one more way: out of all of the colleges that I toured, I never went to one place more cheerful, comfortable, or welcoming. Come see for yourself! (WARNING: This blurb is abbreviated, see first post for details.)