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Right now, right this minute, as you’re slowly going insane in Van Pelt or freezing on Locust Walk, there are Penn students who are studying on the beach, traveling around Europe and practicing their Spanish in South America. Right now, right this minute, there are students studying abroad in France, England, Australia and Argentina, while you’re in 30-degree Philadelphia performing triage, wondering if it’s more important to write Monday’s paper or study for Thursday’s final. Jealous much? You should be.

Simply put, studying abroad, no matter what country, is fantastic, and more students should take advantage of this opportunity. Last year, 564 students studied through Penn Abroad for the semester — 29 for the year — very few of whom, I would hazard a guess, regret their decision.

Think: You’re in a foreign country for an extended period of time — which allows for modest gains in the foreign language department if you’re not studying in an English-speaking country — experiencing a different culture and meeting new people from all over. Plus, there’s also the often glossed over fact that many non-U.S. universities or foreign programs have different grading systems than Penn, which can potentially be less vigorous, especially if your entire grade is based on a final paper or test. You do the math.

“I loved being in Israel — that was a huge experience,” said College senior Allie Sperling, who spent last fall at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School in Jerusalem. “I feel like I learned more outside the classroom.”

Sperling wanted to go abroad to experience something different than what she had at Penn — a major driving factor for students who want to study abroad, according to Anne Waters, executive director of the Office of International Programs.

“They’re interested in exploring part of the world they’ve never seen,” Waters said. “Some see it as a rare opportunity they might not have once set in a career,” or a chance to gain international experience that will give them advantage in the job market.

But it’s not for everyone. As Waters pointed out, for some students there is a barrier, whether it’s financial considerations, academic constraints, a commitment to extracurricular activities or the pull of a campus leadership position. Some students really love Penn and don’t want to miss out on any of their four years here.

“By the time I considered it, it really wasn’t feasible,” College junior Ariel Stein said about his decision to not go abroad. “I’m double majoring … and in terms of my responsibilities for extracurricular and other activities, deciding to study abroad would cause some problems.”

There was also some concern this semester, Waters said, over students’ exposure to the H1N1 virus. She mentioned there were students studying internationally who were either ill, or quarantined or barred from a particular campus due to the virus. “Penn Abroad will cancel or postpone programs in response to local conditions to make sure our students are safe and make appropriate progress to graduation,” Waters added.

While Penn students tend to go abroad in the fall of junior year, nationally, spring is the most popular time to go, according to Waters. OIP thinks students want to be at Penn for spring on-campus recruitment and for other student events, like Spring Fling and Hey Day.

But this time of year last semester, I, too, was gearing up to study in Jerusalem. While my path getting there was complicated — I was set to depart around the same time Israel initiated a major offensive in Gaza — it’s a decision that I will never regret. Sure, I missed Spring Fling and Hey Day, but I was able to do so much more instead. My experience studying abroad was unforgettable, and I hope others can take advantage of the experiences afforded to them to study elsewhere as well.

Arielle Kane is a College senior from Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Her e-mail address is

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