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Opinion

Opportunities abroad tease the financially handicapped

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September 18, 2008

It has begun. The pencils have been sharpened, the notebooks cracked open, the backpacks unzipped. The Term has started. With the opening of the classroom doors comes the imminent change in the season. The weather begins to show its brumal face. The air’s sudden frigidity suggests a brief autumn and an early winter. My toes, ears, nose and chin impulsively cringe. My pilfered desk is already covered in projects, homework assignments and bills. Lists hang from my bulletin board and peek from between the pages of notebooks. Paper hydras, each item waits to be tackled, only to reincarnate twofold. I am starting to fall into patterns and routines. This semester will be like so many past. This campus will soon be covered in my footprints. My butt will familiarize itself with whichever classroom chair receives it warmly, and my eyes will begin to glaze over.

For me, the start of the semester signals a typical encroaching monotony and seasonal lethargy. I am bound here in River Falls. Every winter is a game in which I see how long I can quell the inevitable restlessness that sets in with the start of semester. I am no stranger to restlessness. I am a wanderer. I hate being bogged down in one place or stuck in a familiar rut. Travel has always been a passion of mine and being shut up in one place for too long is agony. This is made worse here because, not only am I grounded in one place, but I have been repeating the same routine in this same place for the past three years.

My one break from this tedious cycle was the semester I spent abroad. Spring of 2007 was my release. I impetuously decided to ìfly the coopî and participate in the International Traveling Classroom program. I spent the semester prior to my departure planning for my trip and trying not to pee my pants every morning I woke up to tick off another day on the calendar. It was a struggle, but entirely worth it. The best semester of my college life has been spent away from these brick walls and small town streets and out in the world. I have always had an infatuation for adventure. Seeing new places is my high. Being able to experience this passion for a good amount of time was exuberating. I am, at heart, both an academic and a nature lover. Europe catered to both of these characteristics. My days were spend avidly scampering across every bit of foreign ground I could get under my feet and debating whether setting off the security alarm and being tackled by six burly Englishmen was worth actually having touched the Rosetta Stone. I refrained; a decision I think was best, in the end. I was able to swim in an icy Aegean Sea, wander Venetian canals, climb Swiss alps, form new friendships, ogle famous works of art, butcher the German language and overcome my Dante’s Peak-induced fear of volcano eruptions by successfully walking on one without vomiting all over my classmates. The trip was probably the single most enlightening experience of my life.

As a direct result of this amazing experience, my enthusiasm for travel and adventure has since morphed into a rather fervent obsession. My yearning to explore new places is now constantly burning the back portion of my brain, which is possibly why I am still atrocious at mathematics. Now that the semester has begun and my brain is preparing to shift into its academic, and likely more dormant, phase, I am being teased by flyers and announcements about study abroad opportunities offered over J-term, spring break and next semester. However titillating I might find this initially, in the end I am beaten back by the logical center in my brain that annoyingly informs me that barely being able to make rent is a bit of a tip off that I am in no financial condition to travel again, regardless of the small amount of aid that I may or may not receive.

I am still determined. If I cannot afford to venture away from the monotony I find in Wisconsin and am forced to brood an entire year in the thirty-year-old scratched plastic of classroom chairs. I will feel out what may be possible once school lets out. I have since spent a very masochistic evening at the meeting for this J-term’s Vietnam trip. I must say, it was akin to having something very delicious dangled in front of me and being forcefully slapped any time I attempted to seize it. 

Masochism and brooding aside, I highly recommend that fellow students do indulge in abroad experiences, so long as they do not taunt me with photos and stories whilst I am stuck here, as friends of mine have done before. I have never heard regrets from people that have studied abroad. It is potentially the best thing that will ever happen to you outside of winning the lottery or growing another set of arms. I know that it has had such an enormous impact on me that I am debating whoring myself unto the next flight to Vietnam. Until then I am to stay here, in blustery Wisconsin, and plaster my walls with photos of places that I will inevitably work up the dollars to visit.

Katie Heimer is double majoring in international studies and history, with a German minor.