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November 1, 2013

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The Home With Dangling Shutters: LEEP, Fiction, and Studying Abroad

I went to bed at 3 a.m. on Wednesday night. It had been a particularly long meeting at the newspaper, and I had a class at 10:25 the next morning. I was really worried that I wouldn’t be awake enough to make it through class.

Then, when I woke up and checked my email, I saw my acceptance letter from the University of East Anglia!

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That’s this school here! I’m going here! Photo from The Telegraph.

So I had a quick party in my head, called my parents, and got in the shower. I was then very very awake because I was so excited. A few hours later though, it became hard to maintain a consistent level of excitement (and alertness). That’s because I have no idea what studying in England is like. At all.

One of the first and most important things that I learned in Writing the Novel, a class I took in my sophomore year, is that concrete details are everything in writing. It isn’t enough to say “the house is run-down,” because “run-down,” is an abstract idea that means something different to every person. Instead, you should use concrete details like “The home’s lone shutter, holding on with only one hinge, bangs in the wind. Chunks of siding lay across the overgrown lawn, and not a single one of the front porch’s four steps is entirely intact.” Now we have a clear vision of what’s wrong with the house, and the fact that it’s run-down has come across without it being mentioned explicitly.

Pretty much anyone that goes to/is applying to/has breathed near Clark University in the past two years or so has heard about LEEP. LEEP is really hard to explain because it’s a massive, abstract idea. What’s especially funny is that pretty much the whole point of LEEP is to take massive, abstract ideas and turn them into concrete skills that students can use and understand. Basically, the liberal arts schools have been criticized in the past for teaching students a whole bunch of theories that fill their noggins with a lot of ideas, but when they go into the working world, it’s hard for the students to apply those theories because they have no practical experience.

LEEP is about taking those theories and making them practical while students are still at Clark, so that they’re really good at doing the stuff they want to do before they even graduate. This is through internships and study abroad and research and a bunch of other things that make Clark special. So when I do an observation at Claremont Academy for Complexities of Urban Schools, I’m seeing the theories I’m reading about play out in front of my eyes. That’s turning huge, abstract concepts and turning it into dangling shutters and overgrown lawns. I now know and have experienced some of these complexities first-hand.

The reason I’m having such a hard time with getting really stoked about England is because I don’t know anything about what I’m doing. I can’t get excited about my classes because I don’t know what they are. I can’t get excited about the people I’m going to meet, because I haven’t met them. I can’t get excited about the cafés, or the traveling around Europe, or exposing a foreign body of knowledge, because I don’t have any idea of what any of that stuff is yet. (Of course, I’m going to do lots of research, and read Jessa’s blog.)

Just like how you, the curious high schooler/parent probably can’t get excited about Clark (or any other school) because you don’t really know what it really is. Of course, each school has all of their statistics, but those statistics don’t mean anything in terms of showing you the spirit of the school, knowing what it’s all about, or seeing its dangling shutters. And you won’t know what any of the schools are really like until you go there, and by then you’ll have obviously made your choice.

So do as much research as you can. Go on lots of visits. If LEEP and fiction and study abroad have taught me anything, it’s that details are important. Look for them and ask about them. And then, slowly, that abstract idea of the “school that I’m going to next year” will be a concrete place, a tangible thing with a name.

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