Here’s what I learned from studying abroad in England.
There’s no denying that travel is the best way to have new experiences and gain new perspectives on the world. As the saying goes, “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” Most of us are guilty of only seeing the tourist attractions of the places we visit. Of course there is nothing wrong with being a tourist – it can be quite fun and sometimes is the best way to see a new city. But does seeing the Coliseum mean that you know or even understand Italian culture? One can never truly learn what it means to be American, Italian, Guatemalan, or Chinese without first living and immersing him or herself into that culture. I can say from personal experience, that living or studying abroad in your 20s is the best way to accomplish that. Here’s what I learned from spending a year abroad in England.
First, everyone can, and should, study abroad. It doesn’t matter if you’re still in college or recently graduated, studying abroad is an experience that every young person should have. Most students think that because they major in business or something unrelated to global studies, a year or semester abroad is not an option for them. But there are tons of programs that offer a range of classes from business to politics and art history to economics. And if you’re worried about finances, there are scholarships out there specifically to help you study abroad. From the Boren to Fulbright to other several smaller awards will give you the funds to experience other cultures and gain new perspectives. Do your research, and you’ll be surprised by what you can find.
Once you’ve picked a program and are preparing to leave, try not to have any expectations. You may think that because you’ve visited a country before or because they speak the same language, living there won’t be that different. Before studying abroad in England I thought the same, and boy was I wrong. It’s true that countries have many similarities, like language, food, economic level, or system of government. There are many other things that may bring us together, but culture is distinctive to each group of people. Going in with expectations of exactly how a country or city might be will only make it harder for you to adjust and really immerse yourself into that culture. It is better to be open to all the possibilities of studying and living in another country.
Leaving home and beginning a new chapter in your life is always a little nerve-racking. Don’t be afraid! Now is the best time to challenge yourself and make the most of this experience. You don’t want to look back on your study abroad as a bunch of “should-have-could-haves.” Think about what you want by the end of your program of study. Do you want to have adventurous memories, to try different foods, or get to know the locals? If so you probably shouldn’t spend all your time watching Netflix in your room or only talking to other American students. Making a bucket list of all the things you want to do can help, but try to be a little spontaneous too. You never know where this journey will take you.
There will always be something fun and exciting to do while you’re abroad but make sure you actually study while you’re there. So many people think of study abroad as a free year to travel, party, and do whatever you want. It’s definitely a time for you enjoy yourself and try things you wouldn’t normally do, just don’t forget that you did go there for a reason…to study. That being said, it’s also important to find your balance. You can’t spend all your time partying just as much as you can’t spend all your time doing homework and studying for exams. Once you’ve adjusted to the culture you’ll learn to manage your time and find what works best for you. It’s also important to find a balance in your adventures and travels. Travelling to different cities and countries is one of the best parts of studying abroad, especially if you’re in Europe, where everything is only a train ride away. It’s nice to experience other cultures, and it is just as important to experience the culture that you chose to study in. As hard as it may be, make an effort to spend some of your weekends home exploring local shops, markets, and attractions. When you get back you’ll be glad you made the time.
When you make friends abroad, keep in touch with them after you leave. Maintaining friendships from abroad is kind of like networking. If you’ve spent several months getting to know these people you’ll want to stay close with them even after you return home. Going through the same fun and challenging experiences really bonds you in a way that most others will not be able to understand. As fun and adventurous as studying abroad is, there are some low points along the way. Everyone feels homesick or overwhelmed at times, it’s a part of the whole process. Having friends there with you that are experiencing the same struggles, feelings of loneliness or excitement help make that process easier. So don’t take them for granted and do your best to stay close. Plus, you never know when you’ll need a travel buddy or place to stay the next time you take a trip.
At the end of your time abroad, whether you’re there for one week, one month, or one year, you will come to find that leaving is the hardest part. Living in a different culture surrounded by people with different customs and beliefs changes you in a way that I don’t think any of us really expect. We become stronger, more independent people, with not only a better understanding of the world, but also a better understanding of our own country and who we are. So spend less time taking pictures and more time enjoying the beauty that is in front of you. Spend less time wishing for the comforts of home and more time embracing the comforts of others. Once you leave, you will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. And that is a richness that nothing but travel can fill.