Science Majors Struggle with Study Away

By Daniela Mesa, Class of 2017

At some point the “college experience” morphs into an amorphous ideal in every high school student’s mind.  We are made to think that college is about finding yourself, exploring your options, and discovering what you like.  As a product of the media, college pamphlets and those older and wiser around us, we painted a picture in which we could take classes in all the different things that might interest us.  We were promised and made to crave a scholarly atmosphere full of thoughtful discussions, new experiences, and the opportunities to expand our minds and character through travel and diverse peer groups.

Fast-forward to sophomore year of college. As I once again wistfully scroll down the semester abroad website, I am hit with acrid reality.  The notion of college that I once in my naiveté thought true has long vanished—and I feel cheated. The ideal of college I had built for myself was one of freedom and opportunities, but as a science major I am limited. The universal piece of advice I was given during my college applicant days was to study abroad. Unfortunately, it was piece of advice I could not practically integrate into my time here at Furman.

While Furman boasts an impressive amount of study abroad programs for a small school, these programs are mostly departmentally focused.  This makes it incredibly difficult for science majors who already tend to have a longer and more structured list of major requirements to, essentially, take a semester off to focus solely on something completely unrelated to their majors. Those who manage it, end up paying for it by overloading later on, taking summer classes, and getting behind on taking classes essential for standardized tests required for post-graduation plans. You can see how many of us would hesitate to consider this a viable option.

Study Away programs take care of GERs, you say? The average semester abroad offers two GER credits out of four classes. While yes, this indeed helps make studying abroad more accessible than it would be otherwise, I believe Furman can do better. Why not create a semester abroad program with all GER classes? While a semester of no major courses would still make the sequence of our classes awkward, at least we would not also be deprived of two class spots that could be used to adjust future impractical semesters. Can it really be that difficult to create a semester abroad program of, say, the literature (TA), history (HA), religion (UQ), and art (VP) of the host country?

Perhaps this all sounds like complaining, and in some ways it is. I am aware of and grateful for the privilege we all have of getting an education and a Furman education at that. Regardless of its limitations, I love my major. I only wish I had been aware before of how different my college experience would be from the “college experience” I imagined long ago. None of this is to say that the study abroad dream is dead. Although May Experiences seem more like an extended vacation than the real living abroad experience and are not conveniently included in our tuition, they can be a good compromise for those of us with imperfect options.

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