Why Writers Should Study Abroad

21 Mar


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  So I did it.  I went downtown and dropped $150 to apply for a passport, I assembled and then proceeded to mail a massive packet of forms (which included a check for $300 more dollars), and now I sit at my keyboard, ultimately procrastinating on my upcoming midterms as I wait for the final confirmation that I will, in fact, be headed for Greece this summer to study abroad.

                I’m hugely excited about this opportunity, and also reasonably scared.  I’ve never left the country (no Mom, the time I went to Canada when I was a baby does not count), and before attending Oberlin I hadn’t ventured farther east than Colorado.  So when I saw the opportunity to study literature and writing through UC Davis’ Travelers in Greece program, I leaped at the chance.  On a personal level, I feel so ready for this new adventure, excited by the prospect of challenging my maturity and practical skills.  More than that, as a writer I feel the opportunity to study in another country is an invaluable one, both for the inspiration it will provide and for its impact in informing my basis in culture and literature.  Nothing highlights a writer’s origin—a writer’s understanding of the world—more than exposing that origin (and thereby its biases) to total culture shock.

                Given these things (which I took as a given, naturally), I was already preparing for that first bite of authentic Gyro.  My boyfriend, however, offered a different perspective.  He asked, why study abroad in the first place?  What does one really gain from such programs other than unquantifiable “experiences” and “personal growth”—what are the tangible payouts associated with the very real costs of such a trek across the globe?

                I began to think about this question in depth (after I got over my initial frustration at my boyfriend’s “lack of support”).  I had to concede: studying abroad will not guarantee me a publication contract.  It will not make me a national bestseller, it will not secure me admittance into that coveted spot in a MFA program next spring.  It probably will not make me read more, or make me a better reader, and I certainly doubt it will cure me of my rambling sentences. 

                The more I thought about this, however, the stronger I felt apt to stand by my initial feelings about studying abroad.  Experience and growth, though hardly measurable in a traditional cut and dry sense, seem especially salient for me as a writer.

                An old piece of advice for writers says to “write what you know.”  I bristle somewhat at the confines of this little saying—who wants to hear about my happy suburban childhood, attending private elementary and excelling at sports in high school?  (A better question: Do I want to write about this?  Answer: Not really.  I’m interested in things I don’t know, not those I already know fully.)  The simplest solution to the problem is to expand one’s set of experiences.  Even if the writing doesn’t grow to encompass those new experiences, I stand firmly by the belief that by knowing more, you are more fully able to comprehend, and therefore capture, that which is not known.  To be a quality writer, one must constantly be seeking out new experiences—whether down the street or across the ocean.


2 Responses to “Why Writers Should Study Abroad”

  1. Rin'Obie March 24, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    Studying abroad can also be a chance to write in another language. That’s what I’m doing right now and even though my writing is not perfect, I feel like learning to write in another language can help you get better writing skills in your own language. You discover things like writing techniques in that language, explore a different style and learn words that can enrich your vision, and then, your writing.
    I’d say it’s a very good thing that you’re about to study abroad! Make the most of it!

    • ocbooklove March 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

      Definitely! Many MFA programs are requiring their applicants to have proficiency in a second language for exactly this reason!

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