If you ever come to one of my College Cognoscenti presentations, you will likely hear me emphatically declare my love for study abroad and strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity. And I mean it. It might sound cliché, but study abroad truly is an amazing chance to develop as both a student and an individual. The learning may take place overseas, but the skills, experiences, and confidence you acquire come back to Penn with you.
In the spring of my junior year, I studied abroad at Pembroke College of the University of Cambridge. In many ways, Cambridge could not be more different from Penn. First, Cambridge is a small, quiet town steeped in so much tradition and history that it makes America practically look like an infant. In comparison with the College of Arts and Sciences, which contains 6,400 students, Pembroke College has only 686 students. Beyond just size, Cambridge also offers a unique academic system. In addition to large lectures, Cambridge courses (or “papers” as they’re called) are accompanied by supervisions in which 1-3 students meet with a professor once a week. In preparation for an hour of intense discussion, debate, and analysis, students write essays and review readings before each supervision. Despite possessing a radically different academic system, I found that Penn prepared me incredibly well for this intense style of learning. While I was writing my weekly 3000-word essay for supervision, I secretly thanked Writing Seminar for training me how to read large quantities of material and synthesize disparate texts into a cohesive argument. Recitations back at Penn had enhanced my comfort level with clearly articulating and defending my arguments.
As cheesy as it sounds, I loved every single second of my six months abroad at Cambridge. Academically, I cherished the opportunity to work one-on-one with my supervisor who helped me realize a deeper form of analysis that I didn’t know I was capable of. Our supervisions were scheduled to last for only an hour, but we often discussed politics, philosophy, and political theory for upwards of two and a half hours.
Although I already considered myself a competent student, these intense discussions pushed me to become an even better academic (and maybe even an intellectual). Before going to Cambridge, I never imagined that I would be able to write my own dissertation. However, in my final term there, I completed a 26-page dissertation on a topic of my own choosing— a theoretical argument for the necessity of political hypocrisy for a successfully functioning democracy. Coming back to Penn, I possessed the requisite confidence to tackle a senior Honor’s thesis in Political Science. Beyond just academics, I forged some incredible friendships with fellow study abroad students as well as full-time Cambridge students. My Cambridge friends welcomed me into their little family with open arms, which introduced me to a more authentic Cambridge experience. I will never forget playing pool in the Junior Parlour, gorging myself at formal halls (complete with Harry Potter-style robes and a three-course gourmet meal for £14), and punting down the Cam.
After my study abroad experience, I came back to Penn a more confident, comfortable, and academically capable person. So if you get the chance to go abroad, do it!!
-Katherine F, C’19