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### Unveiling the Unspoken Realities of Planning Your Overseas Adventure

I still recall my Cornell information session during the fall break of my senior year in high school. While most of the details have become hazy in my memory, one particular moment remains vivid: the advice from the Cornell admissions team that any individual enrolled in any course of study could pursue education abroad.

Writing this from Florence, Italy, I find myself in some ways realizing that very prophecy. Nonetheless, I must emphasize that the journey of studying abroad, especially as a pre-medical track student, is significantly more challenging than portrayed.

Let’s delve into the essentials: Numerous courses taken abroad may not fulfill major requirements. While they may count towards your college credits at Cornell, some might be deemed as “throwaway classes” – mandatory for your program but not contributing to credits back at your home institution. Additionally, most programs do not factor in your grades from studying abroad into your Cornell GPA.

Hence, meticulous planning is imperative right from the beginning or at least from the first semester. For individuals in disciplines like engineering or pre-med with extensive year-long course sequences (such as CHEM 2070 and 2080), a substantial portion of these classes needs completion during the freshman and sophomore years (if intending to study abroad in the junior year). If certain major prerequisites are only available in specific terms, for example, a lab exclusively offered in the spring, this must be considered when deciding the ideal term for studying abroad or when to take that particular course. Students in the College of Arts and Sciences might want to align their language requirement with the language of their desired destination. For instance, a friend studying Farsi at Cornell was restricted to English-speaking nations due to A&S requirements, while students in other colleges (including myself) have the flexibility to choose from various regions irrespective of the national language.

Apart from the destination, there is minimal discussion about the advantages of a program versus a university, housing options, and the financial challenges associated with certain cities. While a program may allocate an apartment, roommates, and assist with visa processes, a university might leave you to organize accommodation and course registration independently. Particularly in pricey cities like London or Paris, securing roommates willing to share exorbitant rents on short-term leases can be arduous and often necessitates networking at Cornell months, if not years, in advance.

Financial considerations extend beyond just housing to encompass campus culture as well. While I share an apartment with three Cornell peers, we are the sole student occupants in our building, placed considerably farther from the main student hubs and our class venues by sheer chance. Conversely, individuals in dormitories may have a higher concentration of students in proximity but might experience reduced independence and fewer amenities.

The most significant obstacle I faced in studying abroad was the challenge of coordinating my courses to graduate on time and fulfill my major requirements. While many pre-med students take the MCAT in the summer before senior year to maximize completion of prerequisite courses, I opted to take mine during the winter break of my junior year to avoid the need for a gap year to study abroad. Despite the possibility of taking a gap year, I have no regrets about my decision to study abroad.

However, I received minimal guidance on the optimal MCAT scheduling and was often informed that my situation was “unusual” rather than being provided with advice. I selected my program partly due to my interest in Italy but primarily because it commenced after the initial MCAT test dates of the year. To fulfill my major requisites, I undertook semesters overloaded with credits and may need to take summer or winter courses or request course substitutions in my senior year.

Academic pursuits can also be impacted in other ways. As mentioned earlier, my program offers few courses aligned with my major. While this encouraged me to explore other subjects like Renaissance art history and business, the lack of autonomy in course selection and scheduling proved to be stressful and demotivating after making significant sacrifices to attend the program.

Apart from academics, I found myself saving funds from summer and academic year jobs to afford a more lavish lifestyle while abroad. Many students dine out for most meals, and with the prevalent weekend travel culture, expenses escalate rapidly, especially when flying from a non-hub city like Florence.

To clarify, I am thoroughly enjoying my time abroad and do not intend to sound like I am complaining. Despite the sacrifices made, I am immensely grateful for the opportunities provided by Cornell and the unwavering support of my family during my time abroad. My aim is not to dissuade students or criticize Cornell programs; rather, I aim to shed light on the complexities of studying abroad, which are often underestimated. The process is not as straightforward as it may appear, nor is it as universally applicable as portrayed.

As I continue my journey abroad, my column will delve into various aspects of studying abroad as a Cornell student. It felt appropriate, however, to commence the semester by reflecting on the countless hours of planning and meetings that paved the way for this enriching experience.

Julia Poggi is a third-year student in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. Her biweekly column, The Outbox, comprises reflections, advice, and personal notes on life at Cornell, focusing on balancing coursework and personal life. She can be contacted at .

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