Columns

Kelly McKowen ’10: Brunonia abroad

Headed a long way from College Hill

After four strenuous years on College Hill, most Brown students are ready for something new. Taking jobs or enrolling in graduate programs, the majority will relocate to popular alumni hubs in New York, Massachusetts and California.

For some students, however, life after Commencement will take them not only far beyond Providence, but also far beyond the United States. At the end of this summer, I’ll find myself in Norway, researching the country’s welfare system.

According to statistics collected by the University between 1999 and 2009, roughly 7 percent of graduating seniors chose to move abroad after receiving their diplomas, making it the fourth-most popular option after New York, Boston and San Francisco.

Historically, Brown students have been recognized for being among the country’s top earners of fellowships and grants funding study, research or teaching abroad. Obviously, we are no strangers to settling down far from home.

That said, despite the relative popularity of moving abroad after leaving Providence, it remains a daunting prospect for most students. One of this year’s Fulbrighters, Rachel Katz ’10, will leave the United States at the end of the coming summer to spend almost a year in the Chinese interior researching the country’s trucking industry. As is true for many of us, it is still difficult for her to imagine living in a foreign country.

“Honestly, moving there is still a pretty abstract idea — I only found out a few weeks ago that I’d be going and I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet,” she says.

Ready or not, students like Katz will soon have to negotiate a unique set of issues arising from being foreigners. In addition to acquiring languages and adjusting to new cultural norms, Brown’s expatriates will find themselves answering questions they probably never expected to ask themselves: How do I pay taxes from Spain? Will my cell phone work in Nairobi? Is it safe to eat reindeer? What do I do if there’s a coup d’état?

For alum Rajiv Jayadevan ’09, former editor-in-chief of The Herald’s post- Magazine, finding answers to questions like these and others has been an eye-opening part of his life abroad after Brown. A Fulbright recipient, Jayadevan moved to Indonesia to teach English and found that the experience not only taught him about traveling, but also gave him critical perspective about university life.

“The world outside of the Brown bubble — here in Indonesia, at least — is often slow and illogical, and it was certainly difficult getting used to that. It’s also tough being away from constant intellectual
stimulation.”

And perhaps that is what will be most difficult after leaving College Hill for those of us moving abroad: not the adjustment to something new, but the loss of what has come before. For every Brown student, graduation is a time to say goodbye to friends and the university that has been home for the last
four years.

For a small group at this year’s ceremony, it might also be a deeper, cultural farewell to America, at least for now.

Kelly McKowen ’10, from Bedford, N.H., was editor-in-chief of The Herald’s weekly post- Magazine in 2009.