I have two academic regrets from my time as an undergrad.
1. I didn't study a language.
2. I didn't study abroad.
I didn't see the value of either pursuit while I was in college. I could already speak Spanish, and I was sure I'd get a chance to visit other countries “some day.”
When I graduated and realized how difficult it was to find funding to go abroad, I regretted my decision. When I noticed how multilingual many of my friends had become in college, I wanted to speak more than two languages. I envied the jobs my multilingual friends could apply for all over the globe, in countries they had already visited.
By the time I started my Master's in English at Fordham, I thought the farthest my studies would take me was the Bronx. Fordham Road is a formidable trek for a Brooklyn girl! I was fine with drifting between the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses, studying in the city where I had grown up, where I knew how things worked (or didn’t…).
I was wrong to think my studies at Fordham would not call me any place I couldn't reach by NYC transit. My “second chance” to study abroad has come and now, dear reader, I write to you from London.
It turns out study abroad isn’t just for undergraduates, which is excellent news for me! I am completing a graduate tutorial in memoir writing with the talented, brilliant novelist Christina Baker Kline.
I’ll be working intensely on memoir pieces, exploring issues of belonging, cultural difference, and identity. The goal is to learn more about myself as I learn about the city of London and to write it all down.
Another Fordham grad student is here as well, in the central London neighborhood of Clerkenwell. Alexandra Verini, a Ph.D. candidate in the English program, is working as a graduate assistant for a class on Arthurian literature.
Both of us are delighted to be here, not only because we are abroad (and can share scones!) but also because of the way London will enrich our course of study and challenge our view of self.
Study abroad offers the sorts of opportunities that grad students dream of. Even in this digital age of online archives of text and image, nothing on a computer screen can compare to a trip to the right library, museum, or community organization. Emails, Skype, and electronic correspondence connect people across the globe but cannot replicate the experience of sitting down and listening to those whose academic training or life experience have made them experts in a particular field.
And beyond access to people and information, travel allows us to be transformed by seeing and being somewhere, if we choose to be emotionally and intellectually, as well as physically, present.
Miriam Beard once said, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” This sort of growth, the formation of “new ideas of living” is larger than developing as a scholar or writer – it is about becoming a different kind of woman.
I will be here only for the summer for about as long as I am writing for the Grad Life blog. In the next several weeks, I’ll be sure to share what it’s like to be an American grad student in the UK, studying writing and literature, getting lost on the tube, and trying – earnestly trying – to take it all in.