I spent last semester studying in the far-off land of New Zealand. Now I’m back and it’s time for that self-hatred inducing study abroad post where I tell you how I made meaning out of fleeing the country for a little bit. When I left, I told myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those obnoxious people who went on and on about how study abroad changed them, but then my publishing deadline came a knocking and I realized that I had nothing to write about, and suddenly putting out my experiences seemed like too easy a topic to pass up. I’m hoping that I can say a couple things about my time that go beyond the usual self-discovery stuff though, and instead tell you about how studying abroad shifted my perspective on Cornell life.
1) Pretty much every other place outside of the arctic circles is nicer than Ithaca.
Seriously, it’s that simple. Look at this stuff:
I mean, I get that Ithaca is gorges — it’s literally plastered everywhere. Great place to visit, terrible place to be stuck between February and April. This place, on the other hand, was sunny! All year round! Look at that stuff. It’s wild, and I still can’t believe that New Zealand is a real place that you can really touch, feel, and camp at. Granted it got cold, but never dropped below forty where I was living. Studying abroad is special in that you can actually immerse yourself in those postcard places, and you should: you deserve it if you get the chance.
2) Cornell is really hard.
Now this may seem obvious. There’s a reason that Cornell is one of the most stressed universities in the nation. We’ve all seen the memes, the grade averages, and the standard Cornell syllabus. We’ve all dealt with the immense stress and expectations of going to a university like Cornell for a while now. But for me, and I imagine a lot of other people, the baseline stress of having ten assignments do at any one time has become sort of normalized. Then I went to a college where each of my classes gave me approximately 3 projects total and then trusted me to study at my own rate. This might be considered a qualified positive, since I’ve probably never done less in a semester.
3) It resets you.
I realized that with each semester at Cornell, I picked up more and more terrible, unhealthy habits. As a result of not listening to my body and neglecting to get rest, eat well, and generally be mindful, I found myself quite sick quite often in Ithaca. Away from Cornell, simply in a place that’s sunny year-round, I managed to find a much healthier lifestyle where I actually somehow didn’t feel physically terrible two-thirds of the time. Beyond the clichéd “forming new consequential relationships” (which I did), I found that during my time apart from Cornell and even the US, I was able to reset my own relationships here. In short, it’s just a break. You may get mired in your own drama abroad, who knows. But I found that time, as the saying goes, heals all wounds, and the stresses of my relationships became less important.
4) It makes you appreciate Cornell.
It seems like we all hate CAPS. It seems like we all hate the Dining halls and it seems like we all the administration.
Let me tell you, it could be worse.
I’m a library addict. I use course reserves all the time. I use the resources and actually go traipsing through the stacks to find the perfect book for my report, even if it hasn’t been opened since 1972. I thought this was the standard experience for anyone who wanted to use a school library. But in New Zealand none of that infrastructure existed. Turns out Cornell is the 16th largest library in North America. That’s pretty wild. I used Cornell’s electronic sources in New Zealand for reports and projects about New Zealand. Cornell had more texts on New Zealand than Wellington did; it was almost unfair for my New Zealand partners.
Plus, our study spaces never close for the most part. It might be unhealthy to spend the night in the stacks, but Cornell has the resources for you to do that. In New Zealand the one library opened at eight and closed at midnight on the weekdays, and opened at ten and closed at ten on weekends. Whack.
5) You get away from the bubble.
This one really toes that self-discovery line that I’ve been trying to avoid, but that’s okay. People in Wellington were different, duh. They were generally laid-back, super accepting people who were wonderful to talk to. We tend to get pulled into the hyper intense bubble that is Cornell. Maybe it’s because it didn’t affect my GPA, but it didn’t feel like my peers in New Zealand were nearly as academically motivated. Now, to clarify, that doesn’t mean they weren’t smart, they were plenty smart. But it seemed like every week I’d go to my 3000 level equivalent class and absolutely nobody had done the readings. We’d all sit in this awkward guilty silence for an hour and a half. It definitely reminded that Cornell is special — that it has amazing, dedicated, passionate people. Even though that aspect can be lost in the noise here, it’s real, it’s something that I’ve been lucky to take advantage of, and something that makes Cornell a wonderful place to go to school.
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