Kenyon-Exeter: Year in Review by Kate Lindsay and Jenna Nobbs
So, after all these posts, are you interested? I hope I've managed to make clear how valuable a study abroad experience is--the hard part is figuring out which one is right for you. In order to present the Kenyon Exeter program as broadly as possible, Jenna Nobbs '15, another member of the program, has also contributed a piece about her experience. We share a lot of the same positive sentiments: the work, the independence, the travel. I think the differences in our experiences are valuable, and I hope you take the time to read both sides as you work towards a decision.
JENNA NOBBS '15:
This week I received a packet from the Center for Global Engagement detailing how to cope with reverse culture shock: clearly this was not written for Kenyon-Exeter students, because it said nothing about how to handle clotted cream withdrawal. This unhealthy codependency aside, I feel lucky to say that the Kenyon-Exeter program was a great decision for me. My English major feels more vividly rooted in landscape and history, and I’ve learned to be okay with feeling untethered, because when you have to navigate a complex transportation system and locate an obscure theater in far too short a time frame, you just do. Well you might be late, but you still get there.
For me, the program struck an effective balance between independence and structure. Had I been left to build my own yearlong itinerary, I never would have seen half the sites and theatre that we did, simply because the logistics and budgeting are so daunting. Luckily, we had two professors whose jobs were literally to make our year awesome and keep our lives from falling apart. This is not to say that other programs can’t be equally fulfilling, but personally, the lack of structure would have meant more weekends taking daylong naps and fewer weekends seeing Jude Law’s butt in 15th-century pants.
While the Kenyon group provided many comforts of home, offering a strong sense of community despite its unusually large size of twenty students, the University of Exeter is strikingly different from Kenyon. In particular, the liberal discourse that dominates Kenyon culture is merely a segment of the broad range of worldviews at Exeter, whose enrollment is over 19,000. The Kenyon student body is certainly not homogenous, but Exeter provides a more realistic glimpse into the diversity of beliefs and experiences that we will encounter upon leaving the bubble. I think this exposure is useful, and the majority of people I met at Exeter were thoughtful, intelligent, and kind.
Given the massive student enrollment, seeking out opportunities is key at Exeter: you can be as involved or as disconnected from campus life as you choose. I wish I had stuck with the activities that I joined first term (a very large hill had broken me by wintertime), but between Kenyon trips and independent travel, I kept busy enough. Down time at Exeter often involves drinking, but as my friends and I can attest, this is by no means the only option (pizza, movies, pizza, unofficial karaoke, just being humans together, did I mention pizza).
In terms of academics, Exeter is NOT easier than Kenyon. It’s different in that you have long stretches of reading and no assignments followed by three papers due simultaneously that count for roughly everything. If you’re a robot and are able to work in advance, this is great for you. However, if you’re a human like me, your life during paper season will consist of making ramen and (occasionally) bathing yourself. In seriousness, the workload is manageable, but you need to take the personal initiative to understand your professors’ expectations and budget your time. Luckily, if you need some guidance, Exeter professors are incredibly warm and helpful in their office hours.
Although everyone’s abroad experience is different, and staying at Kenyon can be a great and rewarding decision, I would really encourage English students to consider the Kenyon-Exeter program. My greatest fear about going abroad was giving up a year at Kenyon and losing the life that I had built there, but my year in Exeter turned out to be an extension and enhancement of my Kenyon experience. Also I don’t know how it happened, but my still-unpacked suitcase is literally the Lestrange vault in Gringotts. EVERYTHING IS MULTIPLYING HELP.
KATE LINDSAY '15:
The year is over. I am wrapped up in my bed at home, eating Chipotle and wishing I could finish it off with a Shakeaway. This has been one of the weirder, harder, and more exciting years of my life. It definitely isn't for everybody. So for those of you who are looking at Kenyon, and looking at abroad programs, or if you're already in Kenyon and have an eye on Exeter, I've tried to lay out exactly what the program is about and what you should expect.
THINGS I EXPECTED
• The workload. I expected it. That doesn't mean I fulfilled it. This is not "junior year vacation." This was probably my hardest year of college thus far. I didn't understand the grading. Things I worked hard on got mediocre marks, and things I turned in on a whim ended up succeeding. It cuts into your traveling time. You have to stay in on weekends working on essays. So much so that your flatmates will look surprised when they see you emerge at 2AM to eat Nutella.
• Travel. I am so eternally grateful for the traveling. I knew before I came here that I would not let my proximity to so many countries go to waste. All in all, I visited Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Italy. Some multiple times. There are still many places I couldn't fit in, and even more that I want to go back to. This traveling will always be the best time of my life, and what I am so thankful the program gave me resources to do.
• The independence. I have left this experience much more confident in myself and my abilities. I can manage trains, planes, and alcohol all on my own now (but I wouldn't recommend a of combination of the three...). I have brought back with me this itch to keep traveling, and jetting off to different cities no longer seems audacious to me.
• Hiking and adventures. If you don't like hiking or being outside, you really might want to reconsider. There was nothing hardcore about our adventures, but they did involve a lot of crawling and climbing. It was something I had never done before, and by embracing it, it turned out to be something I loved.
But to be honest, most of Exeter I didn't expect. I don't know if that's good or bad.
THINGS I DIDN'T EXPECT
• The sheer number of people on my program. Although I think it's so great that everybody got a chance to have this amazing experience, by accepting everyone who expressed interest, there were varied levels of commitment among the students, which was frustrating when it came to classwork and activities. This large number also lead, naturally, to the formation of smaller groups, and there wasn't a real sense of community. Just logistically, it was hard for everyone to do things together, so more often than not, you were hanging out with your designated program friends rather than mixing it up.
• The Exeter University culture. Exeter is nothing like Kenyon. I feel like that's something that's not really stated at all before the program. But it is the exact opposite. The school is large, in both population and square footage. I also felt myself back in the atmosphere I thought I left after high school. The words "slut," "gay," and "retarded" are still thrown around. This is something, Kenyon bubble or no, that is not acceptable to me, and something I couldn’t believe I found myself facing in one of the best schools in the country. The culture focused, like many universities, on drinking and blacking-out, and if you couldn't keep up (and believe me, I tried), there was nothing else to do on the weekends other than silently berate yourself for being unable to enjoy the same things as your peers. And I know this doesn't apply to all students, but they were certainly the loudest. I was lucky enough to have great people in my flat and a cappella group, who were the main reasons for my happy memories this year, but because you live with first years, and the fact that those in the years above had already formed their friendships, it can be hard to carve out any kind of place for yourself in the University as a whole.
• I really really missed Kenyon. And I know it has something to do with a combination of the above two points, but watching Kenyon go on without you, the people you love seemingly forgetting about you, is unbearable. I often felt very trapped.
But the memories I made were worth it. The program really worked to foster as much travel and experience as possible. I saw David Tennant and Jude Law on stage, I ran around London at midnight, I stood on the top of a mountain in the clouds, missed the last train to Exeter and spent the night in a fancy hotel, drank wine on a terrace in the south of France. All those happy memories are here.
All in all, Exeter, I can't say I'd do it again--but I'm definitely glad I did.