Study Abroad: The reality and advice.

Somehow I’ve made it to the end of my year abroad. I only have four weeks left and I’m not quite ready to write about my final semester just yet because I want to repress the fact it’s almost over.

I have a stack of work to get done, an entire book to read, and my need to procrastinate is high so here’s a list of things that you don’t get told about before you leave to live in another country for entire year.

  1. You might literally be living in the middle of nowhere. If you go to a big university at home that’s in the middle of a city with 30,000 students your tiny university on your year abroad might come as a shock. Wilkes Barre is described as a city and at some point it might have been one. With the decrease in the mining profession, this ‘city’ is now just a run down, poorly funded area. Life is constrained to campus because quite frankly it’s the nicest part in town and that’s okay. Your friends will be what makes your year abroad fun, not the place.
  2. Small universities are very different from large universities. At Birmingham it felt like things were constantly happening, if the university wasn’t hosting something then we could go into the city. Often we did neither of these things but having the option was nice. Life is quite different here. It took three weeks for anything to happen in the first semester and literally nothing happens on the weekends. You also have the same people in all of your classes which has both positives and negatives. One big thing I like about going to a small university is that the professors actually know who I am, I’m not just one student in a class of 300 people.
  3. Find another British person. If you aren’t British I wouldn’t recommend this option, but befriending someone else from your country is important. This person will be your companion when something weird happens, when you don’t quite understand something about the culture, and when you just need to hear your own accent or complain that this new place isn’t like home.
  4. You will be alone. You will be left alone on the holidays when all your friends go home and it might be the worst part of your year. Luckily breaks typically don’t last more than four days but it’s enough to send me into a potential depressive state. All the personality tests I’ve taken in my life tell me I’m an introvert but this year really has me questioning that – I’ve become someone that literally needs to be around other people at least 75% of the time to be happy.
  5. You’ll be a fun object. If you go to a small university with hardly any international students your accent will attract people. This is great at the start of the semester when you’re trying to make friends but it get’s to a point when a random girl who spoke to you once in the first semester tells you that she loves you six months later and it just feels very objectified and uncomfortable. You become less of a person and more of a thing people enjoy. This is definitely less than half of the people I’ve met, but it’s not fun when it happens.
  6. You’ll never understand how the coins work. Why are all the US coins the same colour and shape? I can only recognise quarters because they’re huge and cents because they’re tiny and copper coloured. Anything else will remain in my purse until I can find a self service machine or a charity to dump them in.
  7. Political differences are real. I’m not even talking about political parties here. I’m referring to differences in health care, prison systems, welfare options and opinions on the homeless. Sometimes these conversations are fun debates and other times you just need to shut it down before friendships are ruined. People in your classes will say potentially offensive things and you’ll have to think about whether you want to start this argument with a random boy in your 9.30am class on a Tuesday.
  8. You will speak differently. I’ve started saying elevator and parking lot now and I don’t want to talk about it.
  9. The year will go really fast. I’m pretty sure I was warned about this but I’m saying it again. It takes so long to feel settled, and once you do time will go by and suddenly you’ll have a month left until you get to go home. I don’t even remember March happening.
  10. Having friends on the opposite side of the world kind of sucks. You were around these people everyday for an entire year and now you won’t see them again for a really long time, maybe never again? I didn’t subscribe to this and I don’t approve. I won’t miss Wilkes but I’m definitely going to miss the people more than I’m ready to admit.

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