WEITZEL: As a junior going abroad, I’m useless to you

Student organizations are limiting the involvement of students planning to go abroad, but here’s why they shouldn’t.
Graphic depicting a student planning to go abroad with a world map in the background. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Graphic depicting a student planning to go abroad with a world map in the background. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Lexie Perez

My utility as a member of Vanderbilt’s society has rapidly declined.

I was a new, first-year once, excited to be on campus, saying hi to way too many people in the hopes of finding new friends. One of the most exciting yet overwhelming experiences of that first semester for me was the student organization fair. Hundreds of overeager students mill around a maze of tables, joining a dozen GroupMe chats they’ll mute after two weeks and interacting with upperclassmen pitching “the best org they’ve ever been a part of.”

In my first year, the fair became an experiment in over-commitment. I joined everything, which made me productive at nothing. I filled up my Google Calendar until it looked like I had no time to sleep — and in trying to fulfill these commitments, I didn’t. 

Sophomore year, I decided enough was enough. Tired of trying to be everywhere at once, I put my foot down. I cut back on my responsibilities, devoted time to only my top passions and focused on my schoolwork — a schedule of balance and peace. By cutting back on commitments, I was actually able to do more socially and academically. In sophomore year, I didn’t seek out new clubs or experiences, because the whole idea was not to. But I guess I should have. 

As a VUceptor, I’ve been telling the first-years in my Visions group not to worry — even if they are not involved in everything they want to be right now, they still have plenty of time. Four whole years to join the student organizations that didn’t fit into their freshman year schedule, reaudition for the performing arts group they didn’t make the first time or even try again at the dreaded process of rounds and rounds of pre-professional fraternities, Tour Guides or Greek Life recruitment.

Once I found more balance in my schedule, I decided to get more involved. But on the eve of my junior year, I started hitting wall after wall. As I once again sought out new opportunities, many of the organization’s interest forms, executive board interviews and audition pages asked two questions in quick succession — “Are you a junior?” and the dreaded nail in the coffin, “Are you going abroad?”

Ouch. Way to expose me, student body. 

At first, it was no big deal. The auditions I tried were a ton of fun even when I got cut, and the leadership team opportunities I missed out on didn’t dissuade me from continuing to love my organizations. Yet, I began to notice a pattern. Going abroad wasn’t a badge of honor or pride; it was an asterisk, a signal that told everyone you were only available to them for a limited amount of time. My utility as a team member and leader had a clock attached — and it was ticking.

A label has been glued to students planning to go abroad – I’m leaving soon, and it has stuck. I don’t want to spend my semester just waiting to be abroad.

The message from student organizations is clear: since I will be gone next semester, it isn’t worth the trouble or the hassle to engage with me while I’m still here. It seemed to me that I couldn’t be deeply involved in the things I cared about most or discover a passion for things I hadn’t even tried because I’m choosing to go abroad. When I started at Vandy, I was too young or inexperienced to be in the room. Now, I am older but don’t belong in roles of new membership or leadership because I am leaving in the spring.

I’m not saying that student organizations shouldn’t consider a student’s availability. Given how involved Vandy students are, it’s no wonder orgs want to plan for their members’ short-term and long-term commitments on this busy campus. It’s not like I can sing on Sarratt’s stage halfway across the world.

It is an incredibly frustrating hill to climb. I’ve spent years figuring out where I want to go abroad, considering the program, credit offerings and affordability. I’ve also spent hours upon hours taking specific classes at Vanderbilt even to have the opportunity to go in the first place — I’m one of the only students going abroad in my heavily structured secondary education program.

I’m not alone in spending time focused on going abroad. During the 2022-23 academic year, 589 students chose to go abroad. It takes delicate planning, endless forms and sometimes multiple visits to the GEO office — so it’s hard not to feel frustrated when your student involvement limits or labels you after all that thoughtful work.

This large number of students going abroad, though, is what baffles me the most. When you’re told after auditions and applications that “they would’ve offered you a spot” if you weren’t going abroad, it’s as if student leaders can’t imagine a way of including someone who will miss one semester of on-campus time, even when the role doesn’t require work during the spring. This situation didn’t come out of the blue; it wasn’t a surprise. 

For some organizations, it seems like choosing a student going abroad to be involved was just mildly inconvenient to work around, with minimal negative effects on the organization. While it may be temporarily convenient to choose younger students not going abroad, organizations will lose out on the valuable experience of older, more qualified candidates who are choosing to go abroad. 

Some organizations even communicated to me that going abroad wouldn’t be a problem and then cited it as the sole reason for their subsequent rejection of me. Ultimately, transparency when interviewing new candidates could go a long way.

Some of our student organizations are getting it right. A few operate their leadership structures on a semester basis, where roles rotate more frequently. Some organizations, like VUcept board and The Hustler, have allowed some remote involvement and planning while abroad in the spring before returning in-person come fall. A year-long solution to the abroad dilemma can be found in some chapters of Greek Life, which change leadership on the calendar year, not the academic year. This system allows juniors to be involved in their fall semester while studying abroad in the spring, as many students at Vanderbilt take advantage of. 

The message from student organizations is clear: since I will be gone next semester, it isn’t worth the trouble or the hassle to engage with me while I’m still here.

While a shift in leadership or membership timing may be difficult to plan, it gives opportunities to students who desire to be included and have a voice. It includes them even if they missed the only deadline for joining, were unaware of that one club at the wrong time, missed the required interest meeting, didn’t make it the first time they auditioned or they’re going abroad.

As a community, we pride ourselves on making spaces accessible and friendly to students, no matter their path. My path just happens to include taking advantage of an opportunity that, on a future teacher’s salary, I might never get again.

I’m very excited for my study abroad experience this spring, but I also know how much I’ll miss being here on campus. I don’t mean to indict organizations I cannot be involved in; I simply ask to enjoy campus while I have it — without strings attached. Student organizations should make it easier to do that, but their current structure doesn’t support those who plan to go abroad yet.

For larger organizations, a potential solution could involve having first-years or sophomores take on “training” roles under the leadership of juniors and seniors during the fall semester. Once the mass exodus of juniors hits in the spring, second semester underclassmen get the opportunity to fill that void and are already capable of taking on the challenge. 

This system wouldn’t just aid abroad-going students, either. Juniors often take on a heavy workload, tackle standardized tests and face the pressure of finding career-defining internship positions. This structure would provide upperclassmen the chance to step back and reprioritize while giving underclassmen a deserved opportunity to step up and take on responsibilities to which they’ve already had exposure to. 

Smaller organizations might want to consider extending their membership to upperclassmen who are trying something new. A struggle of some of these orgs is to rebound from key seniors leaving each year; having some experience in the room could serve to ease transitions the following year.

A label has been glued to students planning to go abroad – I’m leaving soon, and it has stuck. I don’t want to spend my semester just waiting to be abroad. I would like my semester on campus to be what I told my VUceptees it would be — a chance to make the most of our college years. 

Whether or not you made the same choice to leave campus for a whole semester, many of your peers likely have. I’m going abroad with hundreds of classmates and friends. Please stop pretending like we’re already gone because, well, we’re not.

 

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About the Contributors
Noah Weitzel, Senior Staff Writer
Noah Weitzel (‘25) is majoring in secondary education and molecular & cellular biology in Peabody College and the College of Arts & Science. He is from Raleigh, N.C., and eats at least one applesauce from Munchie Mart a day. When not bouncing off the nearest wall, Noah can be found giving tours and playing four square with his middle school students. He can be reached at [email protected]
Lexie Perez, Graphics Director
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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