University of Wisconsin–Madison

More Studying, Less Abroad

When studying abroad, there’s this inevitable moment when you realize that actual studying needs to happen amidst the chaos of living and traveling abroad. Before I left the states, I was swept up in this fantasy of going to class Monday to Thursday and jet-setting off to a new country every weekend. So much so that I acted out on this fantasy, booking trips for every weekend of my 4 months abroad.

I will never, ever say that I regret my decisions – but I will say that the fast-paced nature that came along with those decisions is finally catching up to me.  I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to soak up the culture of every city I visit, but it’s just truly starting to hit me – I need to focus a little more time and energy on soaking up the knowledge I’m paying to receive.

So, I figure it’s time to also take a break from blogging about my travels and (finally) tell you about my home away from home, John Cabot University. The university itself consists of 2 campuses – Guarini and Tiber (pronounced “tie-ber” for those of you who may struggle like I did the first few weeks). The two campuses are a few minutes from one another, perfectly nestled between the ancient ruins of Rome and the Vatican.

And, even more amazing than its close proximity to all the top tourist sites, JCU campuses and apartments are (for the most part) spread out across the gorgeous neighborhood of Trastevere, guaranteeing you a quintessential Italian experience.

As for the classes, everything has a small school vibe that, admittedly, makes me miss the giant, passive 8am lectures of UW (where I could soak up the information, process it, and then talk about it in depth in discussion later in the week – my ideal learning style). Every class has around 15 students in it, and 98% of the professors take attendance daily. Lectures are non-existent here and active participation is a solid chunk of your final grade.

And, while being vocal in your morning class may not seem like the greatest, the small class sizes give you an advantage in getting to know your classmates. Students at JCU come from every walk of life – it truly is a place that can help you see past the differences of everyone in the world (if I can say that without sounding completely cliché). I can safely say that this may be the only time in my life where I can be assigned a group project with a girl from a rival Big 10 school and another girl from a small town in Saudi Arabia and get to know them as individuals – without the competitive chants of athletics or cultural stigmas getting in the way.

As for the actual courses, I’m taking 4 classes here at JCU:

  • Myth and Media: It’s a course where we watch Disney movies and analyze the “myths” in them. Originally, I thought this would be an amazing class where we watch Hercules and then talk about the actual legend of Hercules, comparing and contrasting how the movie was adapted. In reality, we watch movies like Cinderella and Tangled and talk about the depiction of females. It’s easy to scoff off this class as an outsider and assume it’s an easy A, but the professor – an essay loving Britt – loves to defy that assumption by assigning bi-weekly response papers.
  • Italian 102: Pretty self-exclamatory, it’s 2nd semester Italian. It has been an interesting experience, learning a language in the city that speaks it. For me, it hasn’t really helped me learn the language any faster, but I’m hopeless when it comes to being fluent in anything but English. A lot of students, however, benefit from learning the names of foods, only to go to the supermercato and see foods with these same labels.
  • Digital Media Studies: Essentially, this is a class like any other UW Comm Arts course, reminesent of CA 346 that fulfills the CA 459  requirement (apologies for the CA mumbo-jumbo to all non-majors). But, with all this history of the media and how it affects society, the course is sprinkled with an essay midterm, research paper, and another essay final.
  • Travel Writing: A creative writer at heart, I jumped on the ability to take a writing course abroad. But, of course, being a writing course, every week is filled with reading pieces from past travel writers and writing and editing our own 2-3 page works.

When I registered and read over the course syllabi, I should have really grasped that these classes (like all classes) would require time commitments and would require some quiet weekends in the library. Unfortunately, the attractive appeal of ancient monuments, Grecian beaches, and the alpines are constantly competing for my attention.

But that’s the other bonus of studying abroad – it does more than just fulfill requirements while you see the world. It teaches you responsibility in ways you never imagined. Through trial and error, I’ve mastered the art of traveling and doing homework – whether it involves splurging 3 euros for an hour of Wi-Fi on a cruise ship to finish your research paper on time, or reading a textbook while waiting for your flight to board, you learn how to manage every minute of your time to be most efficient.

Studying abroad also helps you become a pro at navigating metro systems in foreign languages, but that’s another story for another time.