Maximizing Your Study Away Experience

A view of NYU Florence campus from Villa Natalia. (WSN File Photo)

The words “the city is your campus” were heard over and over at the Fall 2017 Presidential Welcome. This sentiment has become both a boast and a consolation for NYU students in New York City regarding the lack of a defined campus. With 14 study away sites and two additional summer abroad programs, NYU’s lack of walls leaves it open to not just the city, but to the world, and invites students to explore on a global scale.

Study away is all about discovery through changes and challenges. And since there are so many options, even deciding where to enroll is a challenge on its own. Each location offers a different experience with a different language, culture and cuisine.

A wave of culture shock can hit some students early in the adaptation process. Language plays a significant role in understanding a new culture. As a former exchange student, Steinhardt junior Amelia Murray thought that she would easily adapt to the Czech culture.

“I thought adjusting to the culture would be easy, but I did not anticipate how cold the Czech people would be,” Murray said.

Murray said the language barrier was hard to overcome when she studied in Prague.

“I was told that most people spoke English before coming, but in the area I lived in, most people only spoke Russian and Czech and I didn’t speak any Czech or Russian so I was very out of my element and caught off guard for the first month or so,” she said.

In order to alleviate the effects of the language barrier, students recommend taking a language course and practicing with the locals. However, conversations with locals may be a culturally jarring experience as well. GLS junior Becca Brett was shocked by the openness of the Italians she spoke with while abroad.

“At the start, I barely spoke Italian and had never left the U.S. before,” Brett said. “Unlike the U.S., no topic is off limits; sex life, political views, deepest fears were all questions I was asked by my taxi drivers.”  

Even with no language barrier, students should be cautious with their interactions at first.

Tandon junior Tarek Hassoun advises testing the waters before deciding how open to be with people in London.  

“While it was super refreshing to know there was a diversity team I could join via NYU and University College London and a bunch of queer hotspots, be super cautious about openness,” Hassoun said. “I cannot stress the amount of times I’ve had an experience that could have gone drastically wrong.”  

In addition to language, the location itself affects the transition process. Study away campuses can be a shock to students looking for the accessibility of the New York lifestyle.

“You can’t just go out and grab a dollar-a-slice whenever you want,” Tandon junior Tarek Hassoun, who left Brooklyn for NYU Abu Dhabi in Fall 2018, said. “You have to put thought into leaving the campus because it is so isolated.”

Luckily, for classes in Europe, the arrangement of classes and campus-sponsored outings in addition to the short distances between countries make travel especially convenient.

“I wanted to get the chance to travel, which is something I haven’t really had the chance to do when I grew up,” Hassoun said. “The resources and the initiative was there, so I decided to take it.”

Traveling may be a huge bonus for your Instagram, but it can also help you build friendships. The thrill of going on adventures, the excitement of learning about different cultures, and the experience of building once-in-a-lifetime memories together creates a strong bond among students who travel together.

“Coming back from a semester in Berlin, no one else [understands] it when I reference certain things like Bramibals, the Turkish Market, or the phrase ‘zurückbleiben bitte’ unless they were there,” Tandon senior Luke Polihrom wrote. “It is [because of] the fact that we all discovered those things together, and much more, that our friendships and the bonds we created in Berlin are going to last.”

What about the friends back home?

CAS sophomore Brynna Gross said that even though she and her friends lived entirely separate lives while she was abroad, they didn’t grow apart.

“It’s truly dependent on how much effort you are willing to put in,” Gross said.

Despite the possibility of culture shock, a language barrier or nostalgia for New York, the real struggle for many is the reverse homesickness they experience when they get back.

“I literally could not have asked for a better semester abroad with better people,” Polihrom said. “There will forever be the magnetic draw to Berlin that I am fighting by being here right now.”

Email Elif Kesikbas at [email protected]

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