I’m a double major in studio art and anthropology, and the first thing many people asked me when I said I was studying abroad was “… but what about your studio classes? And how are you going to graduate in four years if you’re taking a semester off? And can you even do that with a double major?” As I learned, yes! It is not only possible to study abroad as an art major, but my time abroad was a huge turning point in my path as an artist, and I learned so much abroad that I never would have learned staying at my home university.
I studied abroad in Jerusalem, Israel, in the spring of 2017 with IFSA-Butler during the second semester of my junior year. As a double major (and a Creative Writing minor) at a liberal arts school that also has distribution requirements, figuring out my classes did take a bit of advance planning, but it was so, so worth it. So, without further ado, 5 reasons to study abroad as an art major:

1. Yes, you can make it work with your studio practice.

Check out my mini travel watercolor palette I made out of a gum package!

This was one of my big worries while planning to go abroad. As a printmaking student, I knew I wouldn’t have access to the same printmaking presses and materials that I was used to at home. I wasn’t able to bring more than a bare-bones set of art supplies, and I had no guarantees about being able to buy supplies that I was used to. However, this ended up being awesome! In addition to being forced to try new supplies and really stepping outside my comfort zone when it came to materials, I also learned that a lot of things I once considered “essentials” just aren’t that necessary when you’re solo backpacking or traveling to a new city every weekend on public transport. My new, slimmed down travel art kit is now my BFF, and I found myself making art in all sorts of places (cafes, buses, park benches) because I didn’t have as many supplies to cart around.

2. Do your distribution/general education requirements!

Here’s my notes for my final oral exam in Hebrew, featuring one of the cats that hung out in the school lobby!

Because I go to a liberal arts school, in addition to my major requirements I also have to take a variety of classes in other disciplines. Going abroad was an easy way to fulfill some of those requirements, because there were so many fun classes that I could take that weren’t offered at my home university. I ended up taking Hebrew to fulfil my foreign language requirement, and learning the language and then practicing it on the street was a really fun and engaging way to fulfil the language requirement. As long as you check with your advisors before going abroad, many schools will allow you to fulfil requirements while abroad!

3. The Museums! The Street Art! The Culture!

I’m lucky enough to go to a college that has a fabulous art museum of its own, but going abroad introduced me to more museums and galleries and art spaces than I’d ever imagined. From archeological artifacts to a huge contemporary art scene, I loved experiencing Israel’s art scene firsthand. The immense street art culture and prevalence of public art, combined with the historical background of Jerusalem meant that everywhere I turned I was surrounded by a fusion of modern and historic art and artifacts.

The Israel Museum

One of my favorite street art pieces in Tel Aviv, Israel.

4. Push yourself, and your art.

My time abroad encouraged me to branch out from my typical linocut printmaking to try new things, like the woodblock print of Frida Kahlo I was working on in this photo.

When I was first looking at colleges, I decided not to go to a fine arts school, because I knew I wanted the diversity of classes offered at a liberal arts school. Although I don’t regret my decision in the slightest, and I do love my college, I am so, so glad that I got to take classes at a fine art school while abroad. As part of IFSA’s ArtJerusalem program, I took classes at Hebrew University and their Rothberg International School, and also at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Being surrounded by other art students pushed me to take risks in my work and try new mediums and art forms, and spending time at a school that was 100% devoted to art was an incredible experience for me.

5. It’s fun!

Outside of academics, going abroad was a total blast. I had so many incredible experiences and saw so many beautiful sights that have continued to influence and inspire my art. I met amazing friends and visited so many places that I will never forget. Yes, it was difficult and scary to plan going abroad and to figure out all the details, but it was so worth it!

Me and two of my roommates floating in the Dead Sea. The friends I made abroad have helped me grow so much as a person and an artist, and I will forever be grateful to IFSA for introducing me to these incredible people.

Rachel Bird is a student at Colby College and studied abroad with IFSA at Hebrew University, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, Israel for spring 2017.