Studying Overseas as a Growth Opportunity
(Reposted May 26, 2009)
I know, I know, I haven't written in ages. I'm writing this now 35,000 feet over the Atlantic as a return from my only international trip of the year that was personal rather than professional. My family and I spent Christmas and New Year's in Bulgaria (Chestita Nova Godina!). For me it was the first time I had returned to the country that was my home for eight years and where I met my wife and step-daughter. As I once again wandered the streets of Bulgaria, a number of interesting thoughts occurred to me and I thought I'd try to share some of them with you over the next few installments in my blogging.
I once heard that all good stories begin in one of two ways: either someone comes to town (e.g. Dorothy Gale arrives in Oz) or someone leaves home (e.g. Huck Finn takes to the river). My own story has mostly been one of leaving home. My first big adventure was a lot like the one that you are considering. I left home a third of century ago to begin my own life "at university" (or "at college" as we say in the US). Surprisingly enough, the internal combustion engine had been invented by that time - computers and cell phones, not so much. Most importantly I hadn't been invented yet.
Oh sure, I was a great student in high school. A pretty good athlete. Had a leading role in my high school musical, etc. You know the type. But it took both the independence of setting off for an academic adventure with new peers and the nurturing of a great bunch of faculty at two different universities for me to have evolved into the person I am today.
Later in life I was lucky enough to ride off a second time into another adventure. After eight years as a faculty member at some of the top liberal arts colleges in America, I left the comfort of my country to work at an almost brand new university, the American University in Bulgaria. While I like to think that the arrival of the university in the small city of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, created an important arrival story for Blagoevgrad and for a great many young people that I had the privilege to work with there, I know that my leaving home and traveling to that wonderful country changed me in important ways too numerous to even count. At the very least, the assumptions I left with about my country and its relationship to the rest of the world changed in profound ways.
As an international student thinking about college in the United States, you have the opportunity to parallel both of my adventures in one throw of the dice. You have an incredible opportunity to grab both the leaving home to go to college AND the exploring a new country with its own particular history at the same time.
If you are looking for a top liberal arts college, then I know that you will find great professors that will nurture you and peers who will challenge you whether you choose Oberlin or any of about 25 other top institutions. But what I can promise you if you end up at Oberlin is an institution that will not only challenge you, but one that has challenged higher education and social mores since its founding in 1833. If you are fearless enough to grab for an adventure as big as Huck Finn's Mississippi, you'd be hard pressed to find a better option than Oberlin.