Gathering my bags at Ontario Airport and riding down 9th Street via the 10 freeway into the butt-end of Boswell and Wohlford last Tuesday afternoon felt admittedly weird. I had arrived at a place that seemed eerily similar, felt more than welcoming aside from the heat, and yet, felt a tiny bit foreign. Fifteen months is a long-time for a twenty-one year old. And what I now realize was so scary about that first day wasn’t that I thought CMC had changed, but that maybe I had.
When it comes to making a decision about going off-campus for a year, the is the ultimate question you have to ask yourself is this – are you okay leaving Claremont in May and coming back two Septembers later a changed person? I get that this is un-appealing for some. But if you’re willing to work hard in school, work, and in meeting new people, are capable of enduring a weekend of pirate party pictures on Facebook from a distance of many thousands of miles away sometime in May, and most importantly are eager to begin answering questions about yourself and your place in the world, then I could not recommend a more rewarding and wholesome experience.
I also want to be clear about what sort of off-campus study I’m talking about. There are a ton of amazing, off-the-map things you can do for a whole year that I would consider constructive experiences: working on a farm, studying History at Oxford, backpacking in South America, learning to meditate at a Buddhist temple (this is what my mom wants me to do post-CMC). What I’m talking about specifically involves doing something work-related for one semester and something personal or school-related the next. For me, that meant going to Washington, DC in the fall and then London in the spring; for someone else that could mean going to Silicon Valley and fill-in-the-blank.
The reason I endorse such a year abroad is because it’s quintessentially CMC. Our school, for better or for worse, tailors to a specific kind of leader; not the novelist or artist type (though I think we have to start getting more of those), but leaders of institutions and the greater professional world. Doing one semester of study and one semester of work, therefore, is not only healthy for finding out about oneself — which every leader must at a certain point do — but also for getting practice in the professions you might someday go into and hopefully one day lead.
I couldn’t be happier to be back. The truth is that 15 months is too long to be gone from Claremont, oppressive heat or not. But the fact is that you can’t be in two places at once, and you can’t always get what you want. Personally, I knew I needed to go out and preliminarily explore the world, knowing that I’d be thrown into it two years later. And I made the difficult choice of depriving myself of CMC, but also reminding myself that the difference between 3 and 3 ½ years wasn’t enough to keep me from taking advantage of a once in a lifetime experience.
I’m happy I did what I did, and I’d do it over again if I had the chance. Perhaps you might feel differently. So above all, my advice to underclassmen is that when the time comes to make decisions (and believe me that time will come), do what you feel like you need to do, not necessarily what you want to do. Because while comfort might tell you stay at CMC, I would argue that that’s not a good enough reason. Consult others, consult yourself, and most importantly consider that which may be at first glance daunting, un-appealing, or “not you.” After all, that’s what leaders do.