Students attend colleges overseas 

Sophie Rukin and Josh Shuster

“I’m excited to be in a totally different country and see how they function,” Ellery Lapin (12) said. “We have this idea of the American college experience, and I kind of get to have a little bit of a French one as well.” After graduating from the school, Lapin and three of her other classmates have decided to study abroad — choosing to attend college in a foreign country for anywhere between one semester and a full four years. 

Next school year, Lapin will spend her first year of college at the American University of Paris (AUP) in Paris, France, before returning to George Washington University (GW), in the United States, for the following three years. She decided to study abroad when, upon receiving her acceptance into GW, the university sent over information about their study abroad program. “It wasn’t really as much of a decision to apply there,” she said. “It was more of ‘do I actually want to consider this’ and ‘do I actually want to do it.’” 

On the other hand, Alex Nagin (12), who will be attending the Dual BA Program between Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and Columbia University in the US, applied specifically with the intent of studying abroad, he said. 

He decided to attend Columbia University because, unlike other American universities where a student can only study abroad for one semester, Columbia offered a wide array of longer-term study abroad programs, he said. “The idea behind the Columbia programs is that the programs are made for students that want something that’s a little bit more than just a typical study abroad experience.” He has always loved traveling and experiencing different cultures, so going to a school with a vast study abroad program was important to him, Nagin said. 

Studying abroad is something that Yunshu Wang (12) has considered doing since she was a child, she said. “I was in China for elementary school, and I went to Singapore for sixth and seventh grades, and I was like ‘wow this is great, I want this experience for college,’” she said. She wants to learn in a different type of environment and hopes to do so as she attends the University of Toronto next year, Wang said.

To learn about study abroad programs, Nagin talked to recent alumni, he said. He found out about the Columbia Dual BA program after speaking to Vivien Sweet ‘21, who is currently in college at the program.

The program Nagin is participating in is relatively small and unknown, he said. “In my year, there are [roughly] 100 dual BA students, meaning there’s only [about] 100 people that are doing the two years at Trinity and two years at Columbia,” he said.

Wang also heard about abroad programs through word of mouth, she said. “Many of my friends in both Singapore and China, who are currently studying at the schools I applied to, have good comments, so I chose [to apply to the same schools].”

The application process for applying internationally was similar to applying domestically, Lapin said. Since GW has a partnership with AUP, the international application process was slightly easier than it would have been if she applied independently, she said. All she had to do was submit her test scores, and take a placement test, while GW handled the rest.

Contrary to Lapin, Daniel Schlumberger (12), who will be attending the University of Toronto, found applying internationally to be very different from applying domestically, he said. “You do the application in one sitting and it consists of a video interview where you record yourself with no prep time and you’re given questions on the spot and then you have to write a 20 minute 200 word essay on the spot.” He prefers the international application process because it is a quick one and done thing, rather than something students can stress over, he said.

The international schools and programs Nagin applied to had very different application processes than schools in the US. International schools have their own application systems that are not as straightforward and easy to understand in comparison to application systems in the US, he said. “You’re kind of on your own a little bit, but it’s not that hard to figure out if you try.” He also found that the school’s college counselors were very helpful and knowledgeable when applying to international schools, which made the process easier, he said.

International colleges are looking for different things from applicants, than American schools, Nagin said. “I applied to a Canadian university as well, and the only things that they required to be submitted are your grades and your teacher recommendations, and they don’t have you write a single essay, so they are basically just looking at your stats,” he said. “Their criteria is a lot more rooted in numbers than the United States where a lot of schools are emphasizing test-optional policies, and looking at individuals as a whole, and not just through the lens of test scores.” Part of the reason international universities center around these criteria is because they are much larger and therefore more interested in statistics than a student’s writing capabilities, Nagin said.

Even though international colleges are large, Lapin does not know of many students at the school attending international colleges or programs, she said. Regardless, she is ready to spend time in a foreign country and learn new things about France’s culture, she said. “Especially in Paris everything’s really social, so lunch is a really big deal, and I know especially coming from Horace Mann, that is not the case, since people sometimes don’t even eat lunch, so I think that’s going to be really interesting,” Lapin said.

Being one of the only ones from the school attending college internationally does not worry Schlumberger, he said. “I don’t want to take the same route as anyone else,” he said. “I feel like I’ll grow more as a person since I’m forced to meet new people and not rely on people I already know.”

Nagin is also excited to immerse himself in a new culture, and participate in the traditions that are unique to international colleges, he said. “There [are] a lot of constant social events, and [they’re] all run by students, which is really cool, and there [are] also a lot of especially bizarre and obscure traditions at European universities,” he said. At many social events in Europe it is customary to wear suits and tuxedos than in the United States, Nagin said. “I kind of just like the unique social energy that European universities bring.”

The interactive style of classes is also interesting to Lapin, she said. “If you’re taking architecture, you’ll go around the city, so it’s not really lectures or slideshows, so I like that,” she said. “It’s just kind of reflective of the culture itself, since they have a much more hands-on culture than we have here.”

However, while Lapin is excited, she is somewhat worried about the adjustments she will have to make while in a foreign country, she said. The hardest adjustment will be the time difference, she said. “They are six hours ahead, so a lot of normal things that I would do back here, or even talking to my friends back at home, it will be six hours ahead so that will probably be difficult.”

Similarly, to Lapin, Wang is worried about being able to stay in touch with her family and friends. “If you stay in the US, since most of your family members are going to stay in the US, they can help you out when needed, but when you’re going to another country, sometimes they can’t really help, and you are on your own,” she said.

Adjusting to the new academic system will also be a challenge, Nagin said. At Trinity, they do not take attendance, so students are not marked absent if they do not show up, he said. Another big difference is the grading structure. “At Trinity, anywhere from a 70 to 100 is an A, but if you get a 70, that’s considered really good, so the actual scale is different,” Nagin said. Colleges are also much larger than schools, and students do not have the same close teacher relationships as they do at the school.

Although Lapin is going to an English-speaking school, she expects there to be a slight language barrier, she said. “I don’t think it’s that big of an issue, though, especially talking to other kids that are going, since a bunch of them are from all over the world and all over the country,” she said. “So whether they speak only English, only Spanish, or whatever it is, I think the language gap is an experience a lot of kids are having.” While taking a language class at AUP is not required, Lapin hopes to improve her French skills and learn to communicate better, she said.

The social life of Ireland is also very different from the US, Nagin said. A lot of the social scene in Irish universities centers around going to bars — especially since the legal drinking age is 18 and almost every college student is 18 or older, he said. “Everyone I’m going to school with can legally hang out at a bar, which is obviously something I would not do as a teenager living in the US, so I’m definitely going to have to get used to that being a normal social experience,” he said.

The entire experience of traveling to a foreign country brings up a mix of emotions, Lapin said. “The whole process itself, just going to a totally new place, especially a new country for me, is a little terrifying, but I’m also excited, so I think it all balances out.”

College abroad is definitely something everyone should consider, Schlumberger said. “Keep your horizons open because you never know if something is for you or not until you look into it.”