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### Exploring Unique Cultural Experiences During Study Abroad

College admissions officers often highlight the rates of studying abroad and the transfer of course credits. Study abroad experiences can significantly enrich students’ college journeys at many institutions. However, at Harvard University, there is a noticeable trend of fewer students opting for study abroad programs during the fall and spring semesters. This raises questions about the reasons behind this trend – is it due to challenges in credit transfer, the fear of missing out when friends stay on campus, or the pressure to maximize every moment of their Harvard education? Despite these factors, studying abroad at Harvard presents a unique landscape compared to other universities, with a considerable number of students still seizing international opportunities.

The landscape of study abroad was further impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted such programs. In the 2021-2022 academic year, a mere fraction of United States undergraduates pursued studies abroad. Even before the pandemic, the percentage of Harvard students engaging in study abroad programs during a term in 2015 was significantly lower compared to Big 10 schools in 2017. While Harvard College boasts that “over half of Harvard College students participate in an international experience during their time as an undergraduate,” it’s essential to note that this statistic may encompass students involved in summer programs or other non-traditional study abroad initiatives.

Robert H. Fogel ’25 attributes this disparity in study abroad participation between Harvard and other institutions to the prevailing cultural norms. Fogel reflects on his decision not to study abroad during his junior year, influenced by the cultural milieu at Harvard and the prospect of missing out on shared experiences with friends. This cultural influence plays a pivotal role in shaping students’ study abroad decisions.

A significant portion of Harvard students who engage in international experiences do so during school breaks, such as winter breaks and summers, rather than opting for a full semester abroad. Student organizations also play a role in providing opportunities for students to explore international travel during breaks or summer recess.

The Independent’s Educational Director, Franny Connors ’26, contemplates studying abroad in the upcoming year, acknowledging the popularity of alternative programs. Connors highlights the availability of various travel opportunities facilitated by the Office of International Education, particularly during summer programs.

Participation in sports teams can also contribute to the exposure of students to international experiences through overseas trips. For instance, Harvard’s sports teams often embark on international tours, offering students a taste of global experiences. Varsity athletes, like Martin Nelson ’25, find it challenging to commit to a full semester abroad due to their rigorous training schedules, making summer programs a more feasible option.

Both athletes and non-athletes leverage summer programs for study abroad experiences, recognizing the value of immersive cultural and language experiences. While short summer programs offer a glimpse into international life, some students crave a more extended period to truly immerse themselves in a foreign culture and language.

Despite the allure of studying abroad, concerns about losing a precious semester at Harvard and missing out on campus activities often deter students. Fogel reflects on the sentiment among students about the unparalleled opportunities available at Harvard, leading many to question the necessity of studying abroad. However, he emphasizes the invaluable personal growth that stems from international experiences.

Credit transfer poses a significant consideration for students contemplating study abroad, especially those with stringent course requirements. Planning credits meticulously in advance and collaborating with academic departments are crucial steps in ensuring a smooth study abroad experience.

In conclusion, while term-time study abroad may not be the norm at Harvard, the university offers various avenues for students to engage in international experiences through sports teams, student organizations, and summer programs. These diverse opportunities allow students to broaden their horizons and gain valuable insights, albeit in ways that differ from the traditional college study abroad model.

Hannah Davis ‘25 ( ) embarked on a six-week study abroad program at LSE during her first-year summer.