Summer 2014
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Alumni opt for international educations

Taking a risk and trying something new comes naturally upon graduation from high school, but some Prep students, nearly every year, kick it up a notch and decide to enroll in schools outside the US.

In some cases it’s because of a specific program, in others it’s embracing the challenge of a new culture. Six seniors in the Class of 2014 are headed to college out of the US in what Director of College Counselling Gloria

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For more on Max’s experience, click here.

Ventura calls “A national trend, driven by the rate of tuition in the US. But for our students there is an extra dimension. They are operating more and more on a global platform in high school and are more comfortable thinking in a broader way. They want to continue that in college.”

We caught up with four alumni who opted to spend their college or graduate school years abroad.

Why did you choose to go abroad for college?

Max Bork ’13, NYU Shanghai: My father and grandfather taught me that through travel you can learn as much about yourself as you can about the place you are visiting. By developing a respect and acceptance for other people’s cultures, you can gain a better understanding of your own. I live by those words. NYU Shanghai seemed like a natural choice for me, but was difficult. I knew it would permanently change the way that I look at the world. One last thing: I wanted to do something different.

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“I wanted something different.” — Max Bork ’13

Kyle Edwards ’08, Oxford: I didn’t study abroad while I was an undergrad at Princeton, so going abroad for grad school seemed appealing. My work focuses largely on UK bodies that regulate emerging biotechnologies, so it made sense to cross the pond. Oxford has two of the best practical ethics centres both in the UK (and globally), and that is the key reason I chose to come here.

Sarah WATT House ’03, London School of Economics: I studied for a semester at Cambridge University in undergrad and really enjoyed living in the UK during those months. Therefore, when a colleague suggested London School of Economics for graduate school, it didn’t take long for me to begin researching programs. LSE has a great reputation in the field of economics, which I still work in today.

Wai-Wai Ng ’13, Cambridge: I think the fact that it was Cambridge was the dominating factor—obviously, it’s one of the best universities in the world, and at that point, it was more about that than the fact that it was abroad per se.

Do you think you were prepared for your experience? What were you surprised by, and what has helped you the most?

Sarah: What surprised me the most about the academic experience was that there were very few checks throughout the year that determined whether students were keeping up with the program and coursework. Our marks in each class were determined by one, maybe two, papers and then one exam. When it came down to exam time, it was essentially an all-or-nothing moment. While the exam period was certainly intense, being diligent about my work throughout the entire program meant I was prepared.

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“Livingabroad has allowed me to meet so many interesting people and has greatly increased my sense of independence and selfreliance.”
— Kyle Edwards '08

Wai-Wai: I think I was prepared, or at least as reasonably as I could expect. On the academic side, the mathematics curriculum, for example, is different, so some of my lectures expected me to know things that I hadn’t looked at before, whereas others were on things that I had done a year or two ago. Socially and culturally, I’m not sure that there’s that much difference between the US and the UK; the differences people tend to think of are very cosmetic and it’s very easy to get used to.

Kyle: I wasn’t prepared at all for the English graduate system’s lack of structure: my PhD program has no classes and no assessment until you hand in your dissertation three to four years after you start. Although I meet with my advisors approximately once per month, I’m pretty much on my own day-to-day, which is very different from my undergraduate experience at Princeton, where there were constantly classes, papers and exams. However, I feel quite prepared and confident with respect to my academic writing style, a skill that certainly traces its roots to my Prep days, from teachers like Mrs. Madsen, Mr. Bachmann and Ms. Yelverton. I wasn’t quite prepared for the culture shock, as I imagined the UK would be much like the US. It frequently is, but every now and then you’ll realize small differences that shift your frame of reference; it feels a bit like an ever-so-slightly alternate universe. Pants are underwear, biscuits are cookies, braces are suspenders, and when a bunch of my British friends start talking excitedly to each other, I can barely make out what they are saying.

Max: Academically I was definitely prepared, if not more prepared than my fellow international students. As far as learning Chinese goes—that was an adventure! But I was used to the cadence of learning a language because of Mr. Baker’s Latin class. He taught us to learn a little bit every day. If we asked him “why?” about a rule in Latin, he would respond with “Why not?” We learned that culture does not run on reason. One culture is not any more logical than any other. I really believe that. I prepared myself by mentally realizing and accepting the fact that I was not prepared. What has helped me the most: letters from my family, notes and pictures, weekly updates with friends and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.

What do you think the special challenges are of studying and living outside the US?

Wai-Wai: There is an added element of generally picking up how the country works in terms of the very basics (e.g. “you OK?” is a normal greeting, not an expression of concern)—while doing everything else having to do with getting adjusted to university. The other thing to deal with is time zones—people going to university in the US are probably going to be at most four hours from their friends; whereas between the UK and Los Angeles it’s eight hours, which makes keeping in touch with friends a bit harder.

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Sarah: I think there are a lot more distractions to contend with when studying outside the US. The big one that springs to mind is traveling to nearby places, but enjoying your new city and its culture can also take time away from school, so it’s a tougher balancing act.

Max: Everyone sees the world through the lens of their culture; the challenge in studying abroad is realizing that your culture is no better than anyone else’s. Watching America come within a hair’s breadth of something close to war with Syria was a little jarring. I began to realize the true implications of geopolitical events around the world. It’s also challenging living so far away from home. All my friends from Prep live in a different hemisphere from me. That can be a little discouraging.

Kyle: I think a universal challenge of studying and living outside the US is the distance from home, family and friends. You also get a certain ache for the US and California as living spaces with their own unique feel, separate from any homesickness for individual family members or friends, that is difficult to describe.

What advice would you give to students considering studying or living abroad?

Kyle: The first couple of months are tough; even if you’re just going to an English-speaking country that seems like it’d be quite similar to the US (like the UK), you’ll still experience a fair amount of culture shock. But stick it out! Living abroad has allowed me to meet so many interesting people and has greatly increased my sense of independence and self-reliance.

Sarah: Do your research and prep work ahead of time. A lot goes in to moving abroad, even just temporarily, like finding housing, setting up a bank account, etc. Think about where you want to work after the program. How will your grades and experience translate back to employers in the US?

Can you crystallize your experience in a word or sentence?

Max: Despite cultural adjustments and a difficult new language, I had a great year and expanded my world outlook through travel and living in one of the world’s greatest and most international cities.

Kyle: Invigorating.

Sarah: Worthwhile, as the experience has given me a unique perspective when approaching my work and career more generally.

Wai-Wai: Fantastic.