Semester Abroad That Almost Was

In my senior year of college, I spoke to my advisors about doing a semester abroad.

I found a program at Leeds that had fascinating courses on medieval literature and medieval history, and I really wanted to go.

Before approaching my advisors, I emailed the Leeds Chabad. I did not tell my parents.

Rabbi Danow gave me his phone number, and one night when I knew my parents wouldn’t be back for a while, I sat on the floor in my parent’s bedroom, away from curious siblings, and made the long-distance call.

I spoke to the rabbi about residence options, about kashrus, about how many other frum students attended the university, about the frum community in Leeds in a different section of the city.

He said he would put me in touch with another frum girl who was currently at Leeds so I could continue figuring things out. She emailed me a few days later, and we emailed back and forth about a multitude of considerations.

While I corresponded with Rabbi Danow and the student, I approached my advisors for advice about making this happen.

We talked logistics for weeks. I was supposed to be writing my honors thesis in my final semester, and if I went to Leeds, the options were either do the thesis while I was in Leeds or postpone graduating.

The verdict came back from the chair that no, I could not do a “correspondence-style” thesis and had to be on campus in order to be registered for that class. I considered postponing graduation. I really, really wanted to go to Leeds.

I was on my own in a huge decision for the first time. Until this point, even when I made a decision on my own, I bounced my thoughts off my parents, weighed the options out loud while they listened and sometimes gave their own opinions.

This time, though, I couldn’t tell them, I knew what their reactions would be. First of all, my father had already said I had mixed-up priorities when I made arrangements to spend a shabbos in Ithaca so I could present a paper at a conference. He definitely would not think that going abroad for the purpose of studying medieval literature and history was worth compromising on the access to Jewish life I could get so much more easily in New York.

Besides, I was in shidduchim (though I hadn’t gone out for the past two years) and going away for six months, putting my march to marriage on hold for six months, was unthinkable.

I spent one long weekend contemplating my decision. On Friday night, when my sisters and my mother and I settled down in the living room to chat and wait for the men to come home from shul, the options kept circling around in my head. I almost said something to my mother about a million times.

But every time I thought about asking her advice, every time I thought about her possible reaction to the information that I was considering going abroad for six months, my stomach clenched, I got lightheaded, a vise tightened around my skull…

I never told them.

I also never went to Leeds or did a semester abroad.

I made up for the study abroad experience by going on a summer program in 2014, to Exeter. And I’m about to head to Leeds this summer, where the annual international medieval conference takes place.


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