As I sat there, eating porridge for breakfast and drinking English tea, I realized how may things in my life have changed and yet still so many other things feel so familiar. Breakfast, for example, hasn’t really changed and neither have my clothes, my values, or even the little things that make me anxious. At the same time, I continue to feel the distance from my friends and family as I see there lives progressing (as they should be) but just without me. I knew this when I left… I knew that when I came to England, I would be distanced from everyone and I was okay with that. But, I will admit that I am finding it hard to keep in touch with my very fast paced family and I was been missing them a little more than usual… Maybe it’s just because I have 2 exams and 2 essays that are worth a significant portion of my overall grade due in 2 weeks. Or maybe its because the term ends in 2 weeks meaning two whole months have already past. Or maybe it’s because my newly adult younger sister may be moving out of the house! Who knows… it’s probably a combination.
I don’t want to make it seem like I’m having no fun and my life is all “woe is me” send me back to America… Absolutely not! I think every study abroad student (and probably every person alive) hits a point when they realize the magnitude and distance of an ocean! and that’s usually when the pressure starts to hit (like 2 weeks before your exam week!)
On a different note, my time here for these past two months has been amazing. Although I am in a quasi-Australian world (most of my friends are from Australia) I have had so many great experiences so far in England.
My friend Chloe and me on a beach in Wales! (Photo by Chloe Tutt)
I’ve been able to see Chester, Llandudno, Glasgow, and London. Plus, we have planned an amazing 4 weeks excursion around Europe for our big Easter break (postS to come). I am also currently planning another trip with my childhood friend, Hanna, who is coming to visit in June. I am keeping busy with friends, travel, and school and I’ve learned a lot. So here’s 10 things I have learned while abroad that I think will help anyone thinking about studying abroad.
10 Things I’ve Learned while Studying Abroad
- Friends: You will not meet as many local people as you anticipate. This is not a good nor a bad thing. It’s just the simple fact that most people who are from the country you are studying in have probably already formed relationships with other people from the university. Most of your friends will probably be other study abroad students! It is wonderful to have people around you that are in the same boat and have similar ideas of how they want to make use of their time. ie. Traveling
- Class: Expect to do work. I don’t really know what I was expecting. But I can tell you for sure that it is much more work than I anticipated. It could have to due with the rigor of the courses and the completely wack system of grading they have here but, I find myself in the library more than I did at home… Don’t go into a study abroad program thinking it’s going to be all work and no play otherwise, you will be severely disappointed (Especially if you go to a rated university in your country).
- Time: You don’t have as much time as you think you do. This goes for both travel and coursework. Yes, I have been to London, Chester, Wales, and Scotland but, it’s already 2 months in and there is still so much of the UK that I haven’t seen. Take every opportunity you have to see as much as you can. Day trips are a great option to see sights in the UK. Obviously for some destinations you will need more than a day but in most locations a day is the perfect amount of time to experience the town. For your coursework, be prepared to spend a little time everyday doing it. It counts for more than half your grade for some classes and the expectations from your professors are high. I am currently struggling to finish my Law and Politics essays before the due date mark in two weeks… Be Organized
- Money: Be smart with how you spend it. You will absolutely spend more money on food than you think you will. If you are in a country where going to a pub if very much part of the culture you will be spending more money. If you take day trips or trips at all while you’re abroad chances are you will be buying your food… you know what that means? You will be spending more money. I personally spend anywhere from 20 – 30 GBP on groceries every week. I can only do this because I eat similar things every week and don’t stray from the grocery list when I shop. I also eat out and/or go out about once a week so that adds around 15-25 GBP per week. (this is just an estimate that varies from week to week)
- Yourself: You will not be a completely different person… Don’t let the movies fool you. You are fundamentally who you are and this study abroad experience will not change that. Now, your confidence, perspectives, ease of communication, and your willingness to try things may change (they most certainly have for me), but what makes you who you are will not change. Your anxieties will stay the same, how you handle them may change, but what used to bother you then will most likely bother you now. Your character will stay the same. Where you came from will stay the same. Everything that has made you YOU, will stay the same.
- Yourself (2): You will grow as a person. It’s hard for me to believe that someone who studies abroad will not grow as a person. You are mentally and physically in a different place than your home where all of your comforts are and you will be forced to adapt. You will learn a lot about yourself and how you handle people, situations, and a new culture. This is a good thing. At the same time, you cannot forget where you came from. I know cliche… but as hard as you try to separate yourself from home (points of view, current politics, and maybe even your family) these things have shaped you into who you are now. Just as this study abroad experience will shape you.
- Listen: You know nothing. I mean this in the friendliest way possible… You know nothing. You will get here, maybe even have read countless books and articles about your destination, and you will still know nothing. Reading and learning is one thing but actually understanding the perspectives that you have read and/or heard about takes time. Listen to what people around you are saying and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- You: are not cool. I am laughing as I write this because it is soo true. Just because you are a study abroad student doesn’t mean everyone will flock to you and ask you about where you’re from and want to know all about you! Toto, you’re not in Kansas anymore. British. European people are used to others who are different from them. Will it be a topic of conversation? Yes. buuuut this will not be the basis on which you make friends.
- Get involved: Join as many societies as you can. It is the best way to meet people. Honestly! I’ve joined the Kickboxing society, the Wine society, the Study Abroad Society, the Ale Society, and the Scandinavian society…. I have a friend from Norway… They are all so much fun and they really facilitate social events and allow you to meet so many new people. Plus, the culture here is so different that students actually get involved and they are able to put on events that students actually want to go to. For example, the Scandinavian is having a 1920s themed social in a town bar called the Apothecary. Last week, all the colleges when on a massive pub crawl in town. SO. MUCH. FUN.
- Lastly, Opportunities: Have fun and take every opportunity you are given. You will regret it if you don’t. You are here for 6 months. Make it count.