Ventures and Adventures: BCB Students’ Study Abroad Experiences

Each year, BCB students, most of them rising third years, choose to study abroad. Be it to quench the thirst for adventure, learn a new language, take classes that one wouldn’t otherwise study at BCB, or to find some answers from questions developed after a cursory look at, studying abroad is something every BCB student should consider. For those that do, it’s difficult to neatly crystallize how they arrive at their final study abroad destinations. “Where students decide to spend a semester or year may depend on a number of factors,” says Amber Keppler, Study Abroad and Student Life Officer at BCB. Some of these factors are funding, ability to adapt in new social milieus, readiness to assimilate to larger class sizes compared to our small seminars, the application process, and more. 

But, every Bard Berlin study abroader agrees that it’s best to start thinking about these questions early to ensure an overall streamlined experience. 

The first big hurdle to climb: finding funding. 

The good news: it’s totally doable.

The bad news: it means penning down many more applications.

Given the finite resources available, finding funding for studying abroad can be a mountainous task, and for some it can even make the thought of studying abroad prohibitive. However, some Bard Berlin study abroaders I talked with illuminated some funding opportunities which could cushion the financial shocks of studying abroad. 

The OSUN undergraduate mobility scholarship offers varying amounts from person to person to help with airfare, health insurance, housing, on site transportation, a stipend and visa fees,” says Muhammad Faraz Sadiq ‘25, who will be flying to New York this fall to study in the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program (BGIA). And of course, for students studying in the EU, there is the prized Erasmus program, which takes care of transport and subsistence costs during your study abroad. In other areas, especially non-EU destinations, funding can be hard to come by, as this was the case for Grace Klein ‘24, who studied at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. “Nonetheless,” Grace tells me, “life is relatively cheap there.” Finding funding to study abroad can be challenging especially if you’re not fully prepared. Saving up prior to departure, picking a destination with low living costs, or applying for scholarships can mitigate some, if not all, of the financial burden studying abroad poses.

Miksa Gaspar ‘23 in Amsterdam.

The next big question: where to study. Many mind-boggling issues run through your brain. Suddenly you have to read the tea leaves by imagining how you’d fare in a new social setting, how you’ll fit in in an unknown situation with new peers, buildings, air, trees, cultures, adventures, possibilities. It can be hectic. You might wanna do your research thrice and then three more times, just to be triply-triple sure. Once the frenzy of planning is over and you have a sense of where you hope to study, the next steps are relatively low-hanging fruits: obtaining student visas, flights, registering for courses, all these become way simpler compared to the anxieties of adapting to and finding a sense of community in a new place. 

For Miksa Gaspar ‘23, choosing where to study abroad was a no brainer. “Already in my first year at Bard College Berlin, as I learned more about the study abroad program, I set my eyes on Amsterdam. Going to Amsterdam was a long-time dream of mine. Ever since I visited the city in 2014 with my family, I fell under its spell and dreamt of living there.” Miksa studied abroad at Amsterdam University College (AUC), a liberal arts and sciences university in Amsterdam. While Miksa’s nostalgia was the biggest motivating factor to study in the Netherlands, Miksa found studying at a liberal arts and sciences university worthwhile. Although it was challenging at first given that the interdisciplinary courses he took often touched upon topics he had not studied before, Miksa embraced this as an incredible learning opportunity, taking him out of his intellectual comfort zone, and enabling him to learn from others in the classroom setting.  

Now you’re studying abroad, then what? If you did your research, then you most certainly will find your time studying abroad fulfilling and invigorating. This is the time when you mesh being a student with being a tourist, and a global citizen, while being part of a diverse new community. Some go through it swimmingly, some not so much, and for some it’s a mixed bag of bittersweet moments. The seminar style classes we enjoy at BCB are virtually non-existent in most study abroad destinations. At the drop of a hat, students are exposed to humongous class-sizes–whereby some student bodies quintuple that of BCB. Rather than approach these as insurmountable challenges, most BCB students navigate these hurdles with fortitude and embrace the challenges as learning channels.

BCB students have multiple ways to cope with this challenge. One strategy is to organize one’s study abroad experiences with their BCB friends. Grace, for instance, studied abroad with her friend Andrej Jovocic ‘24. This joint study abroad venture cushioned them from the perils of navigating the level of uncertainty which they encountered in Kyrgyzstan. There are others who look forward to seeing old friends at their study abroad locations. Faraz, for instance, said that he is “excited to finally reconnect with my friends at Big Bard who previously did their study abroad at BCB.” Whether it is reconnecting with friends or going abroad with friends, studying abroad can be more enjoyable when it’s done in the company of familiar faces.

A majestic sunset in Bishkek where Grace Klein studied abroad

If one destination isn’t enough, you can doubly study abroad like Elena Esser ‘25. She completed the fall 2022 semester at the BGIA in New York City, and in the spring of 2023, she returned to Europe to study at Amsterdam University College. As an EPST double major, Elena appreciates both these experiences, not just because of the (to use an economics term) multivariate exposure, but also because of the personal and professional growth such a diverse world view presents. Elena especially has fond memories of the BGIA program, which combines rigorous coursework with an internship. When speaking with Elena, she talked about how she fondly cherishes the memory of attending her first tour of the UN headquarters, going to baseball and soccer games, Broadway shows, and attending the MET opera. “The beautiful moment that stuck with me was our graduation celebration at the end of semester. To celebrate the completion of the semester, the hours of studying and writing, the work at our respective internships, and our beautiful moments as a cohort,” Elena says, “all internship supervisors, teachers, students, and friends came together. Together with another fellow student, I was asked to give a speech for the undergraduate program participants. Writing the speech enabled me to reflect on how memorable and rewarding that entire semester was.” These rarefied opportunities help explain why the BGIA program has eclipsed all other study abroad destinations by far. In the fall of 2023, Faraz Mohammad, Hanene Bergaoui, Sabrina Pierce, Dayana Milieva, Maya Calleja, Annika Julien and more BCB Class of Twenty-Fivers will be New York-bound.

Elena Esser ‘24 bathes in the sun outside Citifield in New York.

Back to the EU, we have the historic city of Bologna, where Yahia Albaghdadi ‘23  set out to immerse himself in the vibrant culture of one of Europe’s oldest university towns at the University of Bologna. With its rich history, stunning architecture, and renowned cuisine, Bologna proved to be the perfect backdrop for Yahia’s academic pursuits. He spent his days attending lectures and seminars at the local university, exploring the narrow cobblestone streets and hidden alleyways, and indulging in the city’s culinary delights: pizzas, pastas, focaccias, and lasagnes. But it wasn’t just the academic and cultural experiences that made Yahia’s time in Bologna so transformative, it was also the connections he made with people from all over the world. From fellow students in his program, to locals he met in cafes and bars, he formed friendships that will last a lifetime. One piece of advice Yahia has for prospective study abroaders is to “go with an open mind, for the experience and the education. Do not overthink the courses and requirements. You are there to collect memories, enjoy your university years and acquire new information from your new surroundings. When else would you have such an opportunity?” He’s right.

A symbolic display of the flowery life of studying abroad.

There are those who preach a mighty gospel of only fun times abroad, and there are those for whom it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But for all students, each study abroad destination has pros that outweigh the cons. Grace was delighted to find BCB-esque small class sizes (maximum 20 people) at the American University of Central Asia, but, she also found it to be the study experience which takes the most adaptation. One should be prepared for a huge language barrier, as most students are not native English speakers and mostly speak Russian. This means that finding jobs is also difficult, because most jobs have a Russian language requirement. Also, Grace found that the program at Bishkek might be best suited for those who want a small-town vibe because “Bishkek is not like Berlin. It is cool, but after a couple of weeks you run out of things to do.”

 For Miksa, the Amsterdam life proved to be very expensive, so much so that even the Erasmus funding proved inadequate. For one, the college housing at AUC is offered through a big real-estate company, which did not offer a meal plan. This means that those of you who prefer cooking your own meals might find this situation suitable. 

After my conversations with various BCB students, the apples and oranges of studying abroad show that taking the chance is ultimately worth it. “Studying abroad, no matter the destination, is something I can recommend to every single BCB student. For me, it was a great experience to immerse myself in new cultures, meet new people, take interesting classes, and progress in my career,” says Elena. 

Navigating study abroad can be pretty taxing, and learning about the process and experiences from BCB students who’ve done it is a vital way of opening the curtains to the exciting opportunities that come with studying abroad. What truly stands out about the study abroad experience is that even students who didn’t particularly have a time of their life, when asked, “would you do it all over again?,” all unequivocally responded, “Totally.”

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