By: James Cappell  | 

Studying Abroad From YU

Don’t think it’s possible at YU? Don’t think you can get credit? Think it might not be worth it? Think again my friend. Studying abroad at YU is unfortunately so uncommon that perhaps the thought hasn’t even entered your mind. Well now it might.

I recently returned from a semester abroad in London, where I grew academically, socially, and religiously; and in doing so, had the best time of my life. In those five months, I studied theater and economics at the University of Westminster in Central London. I made friends with whom I shared experiences of a lifetime. I traveled across Europe, seeing the greatest sights and places I could imagine. And of course, I had my fair share of pints at the pubs along the way. I captured amazing, once in a lifetime moments and experiences.

However, as positively life changing as it may have been, at times being abroad certainly had its challenges. In my first three days, I lost six pounds, slept four hours a night, couldn’t find my classes, and overall didn’t know what the hell I was doing in the country. Refusing to compromise Jewish values and arriving there with minimal friends or acquaintances, I was utterly lost upon touch down in London-town. Once I was finally acclimated to my surroundings, I realized that it would take two 40 minute trips a month with my empty suitcase to the Jewish neighborhood in order to stay satiated. I understood that I’d be cooking and eating alone most meals and that on Friday nights and Saturday (trip day) I would have absolutely nothing to do with my abroad program.

Although many study abroad locations will be able to satisfy most of your religious needs, they often will put you into difficult, religiously-conflicted situations such as requiring you to carry your keys on Sabbath when there is no eruv, or causing you to desire that piece of uncertified bread in southern Italy when your stomach is rumbling. Males might have to explain to their roommates what those black leather straps they are wearing every morning are. This feeling of religious displacement might begin to settle in when everything that is convenient about religion goes out the window. However, this is also an opportunity to show yourself where your beliefs and commitments truly lie. Jewish religion and tradition is part of the reason we have all chosen to be here at YU, a place with an unparalleled atmosphere when it comes to religious growth and spiritual connection. Nevertheless, there is a sense of being too comfortable here, and therefore this religious discomfort, an important factor of growth, can only really be achieved elsewhere.

Academically, studying abroad gives you a chance to step into the culture of other people. In London, I first walked into a classroom full of Muslims, Bulgarians, Germans, and English. The teacher had a thick accent and the subject was playwriting, a subject I knew absolutely nothing about. My adventures started with Playwriting 101 and extended to seeing shows on London’s West End about the city’s Great Fire of 1666 or architectural evolution. They continued into the museums of London, Paris, and Amsterdam, complete with rich history, art, and culture. If you do study abroad, be sure to immerse yourself in the ideas and cultures of others in their own hometowns and watch as you emerge with extensive knowledge and a thirst for learning. If you’re lucky, you’ll try Hungarian goulash, Italian pizza, Irish whiskey, and maybe even sit down to a Friday night meal discussing Judaism with a young German whose grandfather happened to be a Nazi.

Studying abroad is about making the most of every single opportunity, religious, academic and social.  Imagine showing up to a school alone, surrounded by thousands of other students from all over the world. Would you introduce yourself? Ask one of them to grab coffee? Or would you go to your room and watch Netflix? It took me a while to realize that, in truth,everyone was as lost as I was, wanted to learn as much as I did, party as much as me, travel and tour just like me, and most of all to be friends with me.

This is the life of studying as an abroad student with an unmatched desire and freedom for social encounters, connections and friendships. The atmosphere is one of warmth, exploration, and pure adventure. While your life at home is put on pause, your life abroad, in which you are spontaneously discovering more about others and yourself socially, academically, and religiously begins. Embrace the uncomfortable situations that you will surely have, and use the opportunity to learn about other people and even more about yourself. Visit Dublin with your new friends to learn about the Vikings. Meet your old ones in Budapest to enjoy an Austrian bathhouse. Have a drink in the Lochs of Scotland, or take a day trip to Windsor, London. The possibilities of discovery, adventure, and fun are endless while studying abroad.

Go see something new, meet someone new, and discover something new. Go study abroad.

Editor’s note: For questions about studying abroad as a YU student, please contact the author at