"With all the sacrifices Cambridge compels us to make, why should we also have to compromise on this life altering experience?"EDEN KELLY-THURSTAIN FOR VARSITY

In this head-to-head piece, Sarah Abbas and Mikaela Krim debate whether years abroad should be extended to courses other than MML.


“Twelve months to agonise over whether your friends have forgotten about you (and to explore another country). As I bid farewell to half of my friendship group, I can’t help but turn green in envy at the thought of a year away from the intensity of Cambridge. But for the rest of us — the non-MMLers — a year abroad is just out of reach.

A year abroad is, of course, a way to refine your language skills, but what you really gain from a year away from the comfort of your home country is a newfound perspective on the world. Total immersion in another country is bound to expose you to new ideas and people. Connections that last a lifetime. Imagine this: friends across the globe that you can call up every time you visit their hometown. Why pass up an opportunity like that?

“The option to take your subject (and self) worldwide is certain to enrich those opting for a study abroad”

These days, everyone has a degree. What distinguishes us from other graduates is everything that comes alongside it. For us Cambridge students, this is matriculation, formals, and the ever controversial drinking societies. But why stop there? Taking time out to pursue work, internships, or further study abroad is bound to aid the professional development of Mathmos and Sidgewick dwellers alike. Classics students can venture to Rome and Greece to delve into the history and culture of their subject while musicians can wander to Vienna for a complete immersion in the heart of classical music.

Perhaps a year away from the infamous academic rigour may leave students deflated. A loss of momentum from the perpetual churning out of essays. But is this actually the case? Although it may seem counterintuitive to pick up and leave in the middle of such an intense course, wouldn’t a breather from Cambridge help out with high levels of student burn-out? Instead of pushing students to a breaking point in which they are forced to intermit, a year abroad would work as a built-in break to return to final year with a fresh mind and new ideas.

At Cambridge, our boarding school-esque accommodation fails to offer the token of independence that other universities guarantee. A year living away from the grip of porters and emptying our rooms every vacation would allow us to get a taste of life beyond university.

So, should a year abroad be exclusive to those explicitly studying foreign languages? Or is it time that it becomes open to all? While having a mandatory year abroad is bound to stir up some issues for those who feel that they wouldn’t benefit from it, the option to take your subject (and self) worldwide is certain to enrich those opting for a study abroad. With all the sacrifices Cambridge compels us to make, why should we also have to compromise on this life altering experience?”

- Sarah Abbas


“A park stood on the outskirts of Alcalá de Henares. Overrun with weeds burnt brown by the sun, surrounded by a chain-link fence that separated town from the hills beyond, it seemed to my Pennsylvanian eyes like an alien landscape. I remember the day I sat in that park, toes trailing in the dry creek bed, crying on FaceTime to my mother. With only a month left in my overseas studies, I begged her to pay for an early flight home.

“Instead of focusing on what the Cambridge curriculum withholds, be thankful for all that it offers”

Nobody seems to share this side of studying abroad, regaling us instead with tales of adventurous exploits and “life-changing” experiences. To be fair, my time in Spain involved both such things. Studying abroad can teach one how to navigate life in another language, and to emotionally detach from failure. It fashioned me, undoubtedly, into a much stronger person.

Yet such experience comes with a cost.

An overseas year aggressively interrupts the continuity of one’s university experience. The late teens and early twenties are filled with change. For many, establishing friend groups and routines proves key to creating a sense of stability amidst the tumult of early adulthood. To yank a person out of that flow right when they’ve hit their stride threatens a problematic disruption to the individual’s development.

Within two weeks of arriving in Spain, the excitement wore off and I found myself lying in bed, scrolling morosely through posts from my friends back home. Their normal university lives — my university life — continued without me, and I felt left out. While those who stay home can still globetrot after graduation, those who spend a year abroad give up specific undergraduate experiences that they will never get back. Everyone commences university with a determined upper limit on conversations with beloved professors, on “C-Sundays” and “Bridgemases.” By choosing to go abroad, you cut into that limit dramatically.


Mountain View

Holiday bliss or needless abyss?

Yes, studying abroad challenges you, forcing you into confrontation with foreign situations that can produce, like a diamond under pressure, radical transformation. But 20 years old is not the time for that change. While maturation remains an inevitability, youth is a privilege under strict time constraints. By going abroad, the student sacrifices a precious year of carefree indulgence to undergo stressors that could have waited.

Because without the pressure, what’s the point? The main benefit of studying abroad remains the acquisition of language skills from cultural immersion. For non-MML students, this benefit all but evaporates. My peers who went abroad for reasons other than language exchange (I attended an American university that allowed for this) simply replicated their university experience in another location, living with the same people, making the same jokes. They suffered all the consequence of a disjointed undergraduate experience with few of the rewards.

You have time. Instead of focusing on what the Cambridge curriculum withholds, be thankful for all that it offers, and revel in its uniqueness. Truly appreciating where you are will make you all the more ready for journeys of the future.”

- Mikaela Krim