Tips for College Success: Semester Somewhere

There are many different ways to be successful in college and completing a semester program can enhance that success. One of the first things college students consider for semester programs is Study Abroad, and it’s a smart consideration. There are a ton of benefits to studying in a different country, like opening yourself up to different people and cultures. It sounds so exciting and who would argue against traveling?  However, I think a great tip for college success is to attend a semester somewhere, especially local if you can’t go abroad. 

There are many benefits to attending local semester programs. First and foremost, it can be cheaper than international programs. If you have the opportunity to study somewhere off-campus and save money then take it! Second, studying in a local semester program gives you the opportunity to experience and learn new things in your own backyard. There is so much to learn at other universities than the one you’ve attended in the US. Most people don’t apply to just one college, and the ones that you choose not to attend might still have something to offer you. Finally, there is a certain comfort in studying at a local semester program and not leaving the country, which is further impacted by the people you meet. In a previous blog post, I talked about experiencing people, which you can read here.

During my final semester as a college Senior, I studied at the American University (AU) in Washington, DC. The university hosts an experiential learning program called the Washington Semester Program. My concentration was in Justice and Law, and my classroom was the city. Initially, I did want to study abroad, but there weren’t too many programs that would offer me the chance to study, as well as intern in my selected field – according to the Study Abroad office at my school. I would have had to compromise or settle, but I wanted a full, well-rounded experience. Instead, I chose to attend a local program just a few states away from NJ.

I had only ever visited D.C. once before in 2012. I took a tour of The White House and walked around the city for a few hours. In 2016, I was excited to do more than just visit. I spent four months living in DC, and experiencing the district like a local. Living in DC could get expensive, but it really helped to attend another university in the States.

There were the usual expenses that came with living in a tiny studio apartment that costs about as much as a 1 bedroom apartment or loft. However, the funds I had received to study at Rider, were easily transferable to AU. My expenses regarding tuition, housing, meals, etc. were all covered in the same way as they were at Rider because the program was covered under the course requirements for a Senior studying Criminal Justice. I didn’t need to find extra money, unless it was pocket change for shopping and non-school related expenses, just to spend a semester somewhere. Of course that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend money going out to eat or visiting some places around the city because I absolutely did, and it was expensive. Also, you can’t visit a place without going out to eat! There was a really nice sports tavern in Penn Quarter that had some amazing food!

Since money wasn’t a major issue, I was really able to focus on and enjoy the experiential learning opportunities in my own backyard. I didn’t just view DC from the perspective of a tourist, but I was able to live and learn in the same ways that college students in DC do. Classes were held on campus, as all colleges do, but they were also held in federal buildings and in places around the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia). I spent time in The U.S. Capitol, in House and Senate Buildings, in The Supreme Court, and other federal buildings. I also visited places where important work was happening, such as The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), federal and local courthouses, and countless museums like D.C.’s Newseum. Each time I got to go somewhere that I had only dreamed about, I was excited and eager to learn more.

Not only was I excited to visit certain places, but I was equally excited to learn from and meet our instructors. The instructors were university professors, journalists, politicians, policy influencers, and professionals in the fields of politics, law, and justice. My class learned from the late John Lewis and Representative Alcee Hastings. We engaged in group discussion with Jim Sciutto, the chief national security correspondent for CNN, and we met U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein. Further, we met Shujaa Graham, an exonerated death row inmate and community activist. Additionally, I was able to intern at a national firm focused on providing safe and welcoming communities for immigrants in the United States. The attorneys and legal professionals I encountered truly cared about the work they were doing. Learning and doing the work at home is just as important as doing it overseas.

One of the best reasons to study at a local semester program is to experience new things while keeping some part of your comfort zone intact, at least for reserved people like myself. I was more comfortable living in a different city on my own knowing that it was only a short drive away from home. I felt safe enough to go where I wanted or do what I wanted by myself, without feeling like things were too foreign…because they weren’t. I actually had an easier time making friends than I think I would have during study abroad. I met other people from NJ and surrounding states, and I met people who lived farther away but knew what it was like to be a college student in the U.S. These people opened my eyes to a lot of different things, and they were just really nice to me! There are definitely a few people I still talk to and probably always will. Of course, I couldn’t have experienced D.C. without the support and friendships of the three wonderful ladies below!

Whether you want to go abroad or stay local, you will for sure be successful in college when you participate in a semester program somewhere.

If you’ve studied abroad or participated in a local semester program tell me about it in the comments below!


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