This summer, I participated in a study abroad program that took me to four countries and seven different cities. Through UCLA’s Political Science Department, I was able to study comparative government and politics of Western Europe while travelling to England, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. As a Political Science and Communications major with a minor in Disability Studies, I saw this summer travel study as a unique opportunity to earn units and ease my course load during the year, while also exploring a continent that I had never been to before. Not to be cliché, but this experience has truly been one of the best experiences of my undergraduate career.
Before I delve deeper into my study abroad experience, it is important to explain the difference between my program, which was called a travel study, and a traditional study abroad program. In a traditional study abroad program, you typically travel to one destination and enroll in classes at a local university. These programs can range anywhere from one summer to an entire year. In addition to offering these traditional study abroad experiences, UCLA also offers a program called travel study. Rather than enroll in a local university, students travel and take classes with UCLA faculty members. In my case, I travelled to London, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris with two UCLA Political Science professors for four weeks. We took classes on location in the morning and then went on excursions as a class or explored independently in the afternoon and evening. Our professors really emphasized the importance of learning outside of the classroom, so we went on several excursions and tried to explore each city as much as we could. As someone who has never travelled abroad before, I loved the opportunity to explore several cities with the support of the professors and my fellow students behind me.
On our travel study, the professors maintained a great balance of learning inside and outside of the classroom. While we did have lectures in which we covered the theoretical basis of what we were experiencing, we also went on excursions to notable political landmarks. In this way, we were able to connect what we were learning in the classroom to current events that were happening around us. For example, one of my favorite excursions was to the UK’s House of Commons. We had the opportunity to sit in the public gallery and watch the members of parliament ask British Prime Minister, Theresa May, questions regarding her recent visit to the Council of the European Union. Most of the questions were regarding Brexit, which was really interesting to hear considering we had just discussed Brexit earlier that day in class.
Another fascinating excursion that we took was to visit the International Criminal Court, which is located in The Hague, Netherlands. The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutes leaders and high-ranking military officials for war crimes. We did not make a reservation for a group tour, but rather we just showed up. The director of the events office kindly let us in, explaining that she believed it was important for students from the United States to learn about the ICC. She said that she wanted us to learn about its benefits, considering that the US did not ratify the treaty that created the ICC. I felt that this was a important experience to have because it allowed us to expand our worldview regarding international institutions, which is what I think studying abroad is all about. These were just some of my favorite academic excursions that we took, but other highlights include visiting the EU Parliament in Brussels and having a mini-lecture on top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Aside from our class-related excursions, the professors also planned excursions to important cultural landmarks. My favorite excursion of the entire trip was an evening visit to the château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Vaux-le-Vicomte is located on the eastern outskirts of Paris and was built in the mid 17th century. Because we visited in the evening, there were candles lighting up the château and the garden, creating a breathtaking atmosphere. The night culminated in a fireworks show, creating a magical night that I will truly never forget.
In Brussels, our hotel was located a five minute walk away from the Grand Place, which houses their town hall and the King’s House. The architecture was unlike anything I had ever seen before and it was gorgeous to walk around at sundown because they light up the buildings. These important cultural landmarks further contextualized the work we were doing in the classroom, allowing us to get a more complete picture of the places that we were visiting.
This study abroad experience has been a very eye-opening experience. Before this trip, I had never left the continent, and had only left the country once to visit Mexico. I was very nervous before I left, but this experience taught me a lot about myself and was better than I ever imagined. In addition, this study abroad taught me so much about the similarities and differences in cultures, customs, and political systems in other nations. This study abroad was like nothing else that I had ever experienced previously and I am so happy that I was able to take advantage of such an amazing opportunity. Thank you to Professor O’Neill, Professor Sissa, and my fellow students for making this an incredible and unforgettable experience.
Go Bruins and have a great rest of your summer!