Upon arriving in England, my first reaction was that of astonishment, yet fear. I was quickly overwhelmed with the fact that I was in a different country. Not only was I now in unfamiliar territory, but I now had to figure out how to navigate this foreign place on my own. Thankfully, however, I was accompanied by four other lovely UNCG students who made the trip easier. Even with all of my fears and anxieties, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the beauty that England possessed. As I rode the bus from London to Plymouth, my eyes were instantly filled with miles and miles or lush, green hills and houses that sat layered upon them. It looked like a scene straight from a postcard. In that moment I felt all of my worries melt away. As cliché as it sounds, living in Plymouth has helped me gain a better understanding of life around me, and also myself. When I first came abroad, I thought I knew all there was to know about surviving in a different country. I read multiple articles online, talked to previous students who had been abroad, even watched all of the popular shows and music from England. However, no matter how prepared you think you are, everyone’s experience abroad is different. It’s great to talk to previous students about their time abroad, but keep in mind that that was their experience, not yours. With that said, here are my top 11 tips on having a successful experience while studying abroad:
|A view of the ocean front in Plymouth called The Hoe|
11 Tips on Having a Successful Experience Abroad
1. Studying abroad doesn’t mean you have to change yourself. Instead, allow the experience to build character upon who you already are. When I first decided to study abroad, I thought of it as a chance to “makeover” who I was. You read books and see films about people who go overseas and come back home a different person. They make physically changes such as cutting their hair or changing their wardrobe and this supposedly brings about a new-found understanding of their purpose in life. How crazy is that? What does a shorter hair length or new clothes have to do with gaining a better understanding of who you are? Nothing at all. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to change physically, allow the experience to change you internally. Then you will see the change you want to see.
2. Say ‘yes’ to everything (that’s legal!). Try new things, you may come to love it! I am the type of person who knows what she likes and likes to stick to it. Back home, I would have never went to a party or hiking. I never liked dancing in front of other people and hiking just naturally seemed like a bad idea. However, once I came overseas, I decided to actually try going to a party. Good thing I did too, because I ended up finding some of the greatest friends there. As for hiking, it turned out not to be so bad. One of my best moments from visiting Barcelona over break was climbing a mountain in Park Güell.
|Huxley, my dragon, blogging about his experience in Barcelona|
3. If you have to choose between staying in alone and exploring, always choose exploring. You never know what you’ll find. I love my naps and alone time. Anyone who knows me knows this to be true. The friends I made over here just happen to be the complete opposite. They always want to do something and hangout. At first I was reserved about it, but the more I started choosing exploring, the more I fell in love with England. There is always something new and beautiful right around the corner. And since Plymouth is a small city, everything is in easy walking distance!
4. If you plan to visit other countries during breaks, always plan ahead. If you know you want to go to another country over break, its best to buy tickets early on. Flight and bus tickets are cheaper if you buy them weeks in advance.
5. Really allow yourself to indulge in the culture. Try popular foods and activities, try using their language and/or slang. Even if you sound crazy saying it, give it a try! When visiting Barcelona over spring break, I decided to order my food in Spanish even though I knew very little Spanish. The waiter was very patient with me, thankfully, and even got a good laugh out of it! But still I felt a moment of accomplishment afterwards.
6. Do not be afraid to use resources provided by your host university. They can be great, especially if you are struggling with coursework. Also, most universities offer weekend tours for discounted prices!
|Me and a Guardsman Impersonator|
7. If possible, join a club or sport! It’s a great way to meet people who enjoy doing the same things that you enjoy doing. You can join a club for something you’ve always wanted to try, or something you’re already passionate about. Don’t’ worry about sticking out or doing things differently. That’s one of the points of studying abroad: gaining a new perspective of doing things.
8. While it’s great to visit popular landmarks, take time to explore the unknown hidden gems of your country. My first week here in Plymouth, some friends and I were exploring the city and ran across this beautiful, little ice cream shop across town. Whenever we would tell our other friends, who live in Plymouth, about it, they had no clue about what we were talking about. Now it’s a place where we all love to hangout!
|My favorite dessert from the ice cream shop we found across town|
9. You packed way too much. When I came to Plymouth, I only came with two suitcases and that ended up being more than I needed. It’s important that you do not pack too much because you won’t have any help carrying those bags around the airport and your new city. Also keep in mind that you will most likely buy things while you are abroad!
10. Journal or blog about every experience! At times it will be difficult to consistently blog/journal about your experiences, but when you get home you’re going to wish you did! This is an experience that you will not want to forget. Even if you think the moment is insignificant, write it down. It may become important later down the world.
|Huxley with his boarding pass, becoming an international traveler|
11. Don’t let expectations ruin this experience. If something isn’t how you originally thought it would be, make the best out of what it is! A lot of people base their opinions about a country off movies and television. When you go overseas, forget about every stereotype and expectation and just live in the moment. Create your own experience, don’t try to recreate something you saw on television!
|A few UNCG students and I jumping on the London Bridge|