Studying ‘Abroad’ in the U.S.

By Brianna Pennella, Student at Ithaca College

The term “study abroad” conjures up images of trendy clubs in Barcelona, great food in Florence or amazing landmarks in Paris. However, this spring semester, I set off on my own study abroad program right here in the U.S. My next four months will be spent in sunny Los Angeles, a place that most people claim is as good as a foreign country to an East Coaster like myself.

One might ask what lead me to study abroad at in my own country, and the answer is simple: opportunity.

When I first began at Ithaca College as a student in the Park School of Communications, all anyone talked about is the amazing experience of living and working in L.A. Students had internships, met celebrities, attended premieres and lived the glamorous life of a Los Angelite. The appeal was obvious: work experience and sunny weather. Who could want more? However, when it came down to it, there were a lot more factors for me than just the good times.

To start with, the program has a heavily internship-focused structure. This kind of experience can only elsewhere be found during the summer. The program demands 360 hours of internship time. This makes up six credit hours for the semester, half of the minimum required to be a full-time student. Had I done another program, I would have been taking classes primarily and squeezing in an internship (if I was lucky). Through the Ithaca College Los Angeles program, I can adequately satisfy both.

The other aspects of my choice come from my longtime desire to see my home country. As much as I’d love to travel the world and deeply desire to see what life outside the U.S. offers, I also want to learn more about the famous cities and landmarks of the nation I call home. Prior to leaving for California, I had never been farther West than Ohio. This journey would indeed be something very different for me. Having grown up fairly close to New York City, I felt that it was time to learn about the city that many say is its polar opposite. By the end of this semester, I’m hoping to be able to knowledgeably throw my 2 cents into any debate between the two. Along with this, I plan to see all of the other major cities in the United States with hopes to see Chicago and Seattle soon.

My choice to attend the program in spring of junior year was part necessity part obligation. The program is only available to rising junior and seniors, leaving four semesters as the only options. It seemed to be Ithaca tradition to go in the spring semester — partly as an excuse to escape the snow in favor of sun and perhaps sneak into some of the amazing award shows that go on this time of year.

For me, a large part of it also had to do with my friends. Over the last two years, I've made some of the greatest friends I have ever had, so naturally, I didn’t want to up and leave them. As luck would have it, we all, for the most part, felt our 2-and-a-half-year itch at the same time and chose to spread our wings in spring 2013. All qualms concerning FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) aside, I was fully prepared to embark on my journey.

Attending the program was no cakewalk, though. The application process was long and my preparations were decidedly under-prepared. Upon arriving in L.A., I learned that, yes, it gets cold, and yes, I will need those sweatpants I decided not to pack.

Additionally, I discovered that Los Angeles truly is a driving city. We were warned, but the extent was something I didn’t fully grasp until arriving here. Being car-less in a car-centered city has been a challenge, but one that I am excited to face. My lack of vehicle has forced me to branch out and make connections with new people, learn to manage my time and have a few public transit adventures.

Overall, my choice to come to L.A. was driving by an amazing opportunity for career advancement as well as the temptation of a beautiful coastline. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve had so many exciting experiences that I already know it was the right choice.

My advice is that anyone with the opportunity to go abroad should take it, whether they are in their own country or a new one, the benefits are undeniable. Set aside your FOMO and anxiety, your lethargy and cautions, your excuses and your doubts and simply set off on a journey you may never have another chance to go on.

Happy travels to all my study abroad hopefuls!

Want to see if your university/college offers a similar program? Make sure to stop by your school's study abroad office and see what's available. Even if your school doesn't have a program, they can point you in the right direction of third-party organizations that they recommend. Another stop you need to make is your adviser's office. Make sure your credits will go toward your degree!

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