Studying abroad, particularly during the summer, is popular among UCSD students. Junior Sarah Deitcher shares her experience abroad in Switzerland this past summer.
Studying geology in a lecture hall and studying geology while staring up at the Swiss Alps, imagining their formation in awe, are two wildly different experiences. This summer, Seventh College junior Sarah Deitcher encountered the latter firsthand as she spent a month studying abroad in Switzerland, taking a geology class, and exploring Switzerland and its surrounding countries.
When Deitcher discovered this UC San Diego summer study abroad program towards the beginning of her sophomore year, she was immediately intrigued. She had been to Switzerland as a child and remembers her experience fondly. She was also taking a geology course and was considering picking up a geology minor, which spurred her decision to apply for the program.
Studying abroad is common among UCSD students, and according to the Study Abroad Dashboard, approximately 900 students study abroad each year, including summer and single-quarter programs. These numbers dropped significantly due to COVID-19, with only 100-200 people studying abroad for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years. However, the numbers have begun to rise again and return to pre-pandemic levels; the most popular destinations appear to be the United Kingdom, Italy, and South Korea.
According to Deitcher, the study abroad trip was well-structured, with classroom time taking place Monday through Thursday and downtime from Friday through Sunday. This gave her the opportunity to explore Switzerland and travel to nearby countries such as Germany and France. She said that, logistically and financially, this was more convenient than having to travel back and forth from the United States since traveling within Europe is convenient due to smaller country sizes and efficient train systems. Deitcher also adds that her class would frequently take day trips with their instructor.
“We would take trains to other cities in Switzerland, and [our instructor] would tell us about the background of the area, the structure of the mountains, and [the] geologic history of that area,” Deitcher said. “It’s one thing to learn how to identify rocks and understand geologic history, but then when you see it in person, it starts making sense, and it clicks, so I really liked that he was able to point things out and show us.”
Deitcher adds that this was her second study abroad trip and that during her sophomore year winter break, she traveled to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan with an anthropology professor and took an archaeology-focused course. This trip, however, was very different from her Switzerland trip due to its structure.
It was two weeks long and very hands-on with little downtime. Deitcher remembers near-constant traveling, learning, and listening to lectures, but she did enjoy her time and learned a lot from the experience.
What these two trips had in common, however, was Deitcher’s increased awareness that she was a guest and a traveler in a different country. She added that, during both trips, she never saw herself as a local and was always interacting with people as a tourist. Even though she was in Switzerland for longer, she said that she feels like one can’t fully immerse themselves unless one lives in a country for at least a couple of years.
“Traveling specifically [for study abroad], I think you gain an appreciation for where you’re visiting, a sense of respect, and knowing your place in that society,” Deitcher said. “It kind of helps you become a more responsible and respectful traveler. It’s just a subconscious awareness of your surroundings.”
According to a Forbes article about the benefits of studying abroad, “It is learning by experience that allows for the deepest and most life-altering personal change.” Not only does studying abroad contribute to self-awareness and intercultural skill development, but research has indicated that studying abroad positively correlates with employment and teamwork skills.
Studying abroad over the summer is consistently the most popular option among UCSD students, with over half of participants choosing the summer as their study abroad term. Fall is the second most popular option.
Deitcher says that a month in Switzerland was a good amount of time to get the feel of the country and its culture, as well as experience what living there would be like on a day-to-day basis. She hopes to go abroad again in the future, whether or not that’s through study abroad programs.
“I would want to [study abroad] in a different country or explore another continent because I feel like I have traveled to Europe quite a bit,” Deitcher said. “I am definitely considering studying somewhere else, even if it’s for graduate school or just staying somewhere else for a couple of years. I’m definitely thinking about those things as I’m becoming an upperclassman.”
Deitcher says that, due to her inexperience with the field of geology, she was nervous about making friends and fitting in before going on this trip. However, she soon realized that everyone seemed to have an open mind, and making friends was a natural process.
“I think anyone that is considering doing a study abroad and might be nervous about that, especially if they don’t have anyone to go with, it’s a very welcoming experience, and I never had any issues being excluded or seeing other people being excluded,” Deitcher said. “Everyone’s very welcoming and just wants to take advantage of the opportunity together.”
Image courtesy of Sarah Deitcher.