Global Liberal Studies junior Madison Trpisovsky should be spending her school year in Paris. It’s a year that she should have spent living out her life as a true local Parisian. Instead, she is spending her junior year back on the New York campus, attending the classes she would have had in Paris remotely through Zoom.
One aspect of studying in Paris that Trpisovsky anticipated was taking classes at a French university. Trpisovsky was accepted into the exchange program between NYU and Sciences Po, a university of the social sciences in Paris. Although she was given the option to take a remote class, the difficulties that were attached to participating in the program remotely were too overwhelming for her.
“Zoom classes are hard enough, and also the language barrier would have been even harder on its own,” Trpisovsky said. “But the fact that it would be a Zoom class and language and cultural barrier, I decided that it would have been too much.”
This is a disappointing reality many GLS juniors face. While it is a popular choice for non-GLS students to choose to study abroad for one semester, GLS requires its students to study abroad for a full academic year; it is the only program at NYU to demand it. This year is usually a chance for juniors to fully reap the benefits of their international immersion, whether it be through field trips, internships or even by simply enjoying the local culture of their respective study sites. However, the program has turned remote for many students, forced on by the ongoing pandemic and travel bans from different countries. It has dulled the quality of education and limited the experiences that juniors had looked forward to enjoying.
GLS junior Bianca Peña Ruiz, who decided to take a gap semester, also shared the same sentiment as Trpisovsky and felt that attending abroad classes remotely provided too many difficulties. However, the main culprit for her decision to stay at home in Puerto Rico was her financial constraint.
“I have a brother and a sister, but they study here in Puerto Rico,” Ruiz said. “I mostly just depend on my mom’s income for tuition (well, us three), so it was very difficult for me to say like, ‘You have to pay $30,000 mid-pandemic,’ you know?”
However, because Ruiz has decided to take the semester off, she is no longer on track for her senior year thesis. She now faces a unique situation of having to either transfer to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study or to a different university altogether.
The exposure to a foreign culture that the program provides is crucial to helping juniors shape their senior year thesis, which will explore the global issues related to students’ concentrations. This is the case for GLS junior Jordan Newton-House, who is attending her Berlin classes remotely from New York. Because she plans to have her thesis research the way World War II was memorialized and seen as a global event, physically being in Berlin was crucial to her.
“When you talk about post-World War II monument buildings, Berlin is like the place to be,” Newton-House said. “I have to Zoom into two classes in Berlin, so I’m still getting the education. I just don’t get that firsthand experience that I would normally get or would have gotten if I was there.”
Some of Newton-House’s previous plans to take advantage of her presence in Berlin in order to support her thesis included interviewing one of the Afro-Germans who were sterilized during the Holocaust and getting an internship based in museums or memorial buildings. Newton-House must now change her plans according to what she can do from New York.
“I’d like to say that I’d be able to do remote work and do a lot of independent research, but I genuinely don’t know if that will be possible,” Newton-House said. “Maybe I’ll be able to go for the summer or fall semester of senior year, but at this point in time, I really don’t know.”
While students understand that being unable to study abroad is an unprecedented situation that is out of even the GLS administration’s hands, they remain disappointed with this outcome. Because studying abroad is a highly emphasized requirement to GLS students, many students anticipate their junior year.
“I feel like there’s nothing that compares to being in a [new] city, and the experience of being in and around the people,” Tripsovsky said. “Even walking around, like you don’t get to do the normal student things. Like going to a coffee shop like in Paris is different than going to a coffee shop here. I think not having that immersion, it’s like a really big loss.”
The year abroad was a big influence toward Newton-House’s decision to enroll in the GLS program, and thus was something she looked forward to since her first year at college. This was a reality that she has had to come to terms with.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it, it sucks. Like it f-cking sucks,” Newton-House said. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted to study abroad in Berlin. I’ve been prepping for this, I’ve been getting ready, I was super excited. When they sent the email that was like, ‘Don’t get your visa, we don’t know what’s going on,’ I was like, okay. This isn’t happening.”
Even Ruiz, who had studied in Argentina in the fall of 2019, feels disappointed with having to miss out on a defining educational experience.
“I still feel like for everyone else and for myself that this is what they [GLS] promised, but of course it’s not their fault. But it’s just very disappointing,” Ruiz said. “The main point of GLS was to go that year abroad, and the thesis is based on what you learned and explored during that year abroad, and it’s not the same when you’re doing remote.”
GLS juniors still have no foresight on what the next semester will look like, as students have yet to receive updates from administrators.
“They haven’t given us any updates on anything in a while,” Trpisovsky said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen, because the visa process would have had to start now, and LS [Liberal Studies] hasn’t said anything to us about it.”
Although there is a very real chance that studying abroad may not be a possibility for the remainder of their college careers, both Newton-House and Trpisovsky plan to find their own ways to immerse themselves in the cultures of Berlin and Paris respectively once they graduate.
“I plan on going to grad school, so I think the year in between undergrad and grad school, I would probably move to Germany and live there for a year,” Newton-House said.
Trpisovsky briefly considered participating in NYU’s five-year BA/MA program but decided to opt for a different way to achieve her masters. She saw this as a chance for her to be able to compensate for her missing study abroad experience in the future.
“I might try to do my masters in Europe instead because I’m not getting this study abroad experience now,” Trpisovsky said. “Originally, I was planning on coming back to NYU for grad school, but I don’t think I want to do that anymore.”
While students may no longer be able to experience the junior year abroad they’ve been looking forward to their entire college careers, they still hold a deep love and respect for their program.
“Because of GLS, I get to study politics, but I also get to study arts and culture,” Trpisovsky said. “I don’t know what else I would be doing if I wasn’t in GLS, so I’m okay with it ultimately. Like it sucks that I can’t go abroad, but it’s not the fault of the administrators, and I feel like they’ve done what they could.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 21, e-print edition. Email Dana Sun at [email protected]