Although not everybody chooses to (or gets the opportunity to) study abroad, Smithtown High School West’s own, Mr. Ferrante, gives a first hand look into how impactful an opportunity like this can be. While it can’t be guaranteed that Mr. Ferrante won’t be scaring a new set of freshman going into Pre-AP World History each year, personal accounts like his prove just how beneficial and life changing venturing from home to further your education can be.
Growing up in Silicon Valley, California, Mr. Ferrante never seemed to travel much. No excessively spectacular or impressionable trips as a child immediately coming to mind. He was briefly able to recollect local experiences such as: going to Los Angeles for Disneyland, sledding in Sonora, and visiting the sequoias to go hiking. However, nothing even close to as far away from home as he would be in the years to come.
Lucky to have been given the opportunity to study abroad not once but twice, Mr. Ferrante has been able to visit both Singapore and India in his years as a student. Despite both experiences being chances of a lifetime, when asked if he would prefer to focus on one place over another, Ferrante quickly came to the conclusion of wanting to share his experience in India; further explaining that by that time he was a few years older as a grad student, and in turn “a lot more reflective.”
Through a three year program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Ferrante studied History of Religion under Dr. Ryerson. Having his PhD on Hinduism in South Asia, as well as many contacts with different universities and institutions in that region, Dr. Ryerson was able to put together a semester long program in India—the program that would change Mr. Ferrante’s life, putting him “forever in [Dr. Ryerson’s] debt.”
Regardless of being only twenty three during his three month expedition, to this day Ferrante is able to recall his experiences studying abroad in India like they were just yesterday. From being able to see the Madurai Meenakshi Temple and the Taj Mahal (which exceeded his sky high expectations), to being able to bathe in the Ganges in the Himalayas, Ferrante quickly made it obvious that studying abroad teaches you so much more than any class that American college could teach you.
Mr. Ferrante’s ability to clearly reminisce on experiences in Mumbai (still called Bombay while he was there), was a clear indicator of how big of an impression this opportunity had on his life. However, over everything else, his recollection on such tiny details on the impoverished Muslim neighborhood he resided in while in Mumbai was the most unmistakable indicator of all.
As if he was there in that moment, Ferrante remembered the cohesiveness of the neighborhood. Still to this day amazed by the way each person seemed to know everyone around them; and how something as simple as the call to prayer that radiated from the neighborhood mosque a few blocks down seemed to seamlessly match the rhythm of this community. Though it is difficult explaining an idea so abstract to anyone who has never seen this beautifully symbolic occasion themselves, the ease of Ferrante’s explanation of the event would make his acquired insight and understanding of this culture apparent to even a stranger.
Although studying abroad may be an incredible opportunity, no experience is a fairytale. From expected homesickness—missing familiar smells, familiar sights, even just familiar food—to not so expected welts covering your back and neck from bed bugs in a youth hostel, Mr. Ferrante was able to describe his fair share of bad experiences. Bad experiences that even affected his health and travels such as, amoebic dysentery caused by a parasitic infection spread through contaminated food and water. While at the time this only caused problems for Ferrante, leaving him miserable and unable to eat or relax on long train and bus rides across India, today he is able to revisit his rather unlucky experiences like this one and simply laugh at his past misfortunes.
Despite any setbacks in his time studying abroad, Mr. Ferrante will be the first one to confidently tell you that his “only regret is that [he] hadn’t done it more.” The opportunity to study abroad is not just an opportunity to gain more from your education, but a way to grow and understand not only yourself, but the world and various people in it in a way that cannot be fathomed. From a valuable, first hand look, take it from Mr. Ferrante: “It helped me understand the very historical nature of my own existence…You begin to see things from other people’s point of view…You become more tolerant and you become more empathetic…I cannot imagine myself today without those [experiences].”