Being abroad is an incredibly exciting period in life. It’s a massive privilege, for starters, as being abroad makes you one of relatively few people in the world who not only get to attend college, but get to spend part of that college career in another country. Because of this, and rightly so, most of us feel the need to take advantage of every possible moment we can while abroad. And that’s good! Part of the benefit of studying abroad is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and discovering new skills and capabilities of which you were previously unaware. It’s discovering a new side of yourself that can only be revealed under pressure, specifically the pressure of coming face to face with a brand new country and culture and trying not to embarrass yourself too much in the process.
It’s scary to believe my study abroad experience is coming to an end. I’ve been dreaming of having this experience since high school and could not wait these past two years at DU to have my turn at these adventures!
I chose Bangor University because it combined both the familiar (English language and the UK) and the unknown (Wales and British university life).
I loved every moment of this experience. Here are my highlights!
I took three classes. My business class counted for DU credit and I liked taking a class that applied to my major in a foreign setting. My Welsh history class was definitely my favorite! It was great to get the information pertaining to the area I was studying in and it made visiting the various castles of the region much more exciting and rewarding! A spur of the moment decision to take a science class was one of the greatest decisions I made at the beginning of the semester. It was five weeks of lectures about the geography of the area and then a week long field course trekking through Snowdonia National Park. It was a great method to learn science and a spectacular corner of the world to explore!
I never would have discovered this corner of the UK without studying at Bangor. Its perfect setting between Snowdonia National Park and the Irish Sea. I went on many adventures throughout the area. My favrotie place was Conwy, a medieval walled city home to the Conwy Castle. It was a great place to explore and shop around the little boutiques. My field course visited the National Park and the best place was the Aber Valley, home to two spectacular waterfalls in a mystical, fairy-tale like setting. Having the ability to explore so many different corners of the UK and Europe on the weekend has definitely instilled a deeper love of travel in me. It also inspired me to travel more around the USA to get to know the different regions!
Britain takes their holidays very seriously. For Halloween, I attended a Harry Potter feast complete with magic lessons, chocolate frogs, and Dumbledore. My friend from DU threw a Thanksgiving for her flat and I got to attend. It was an interesting group to spend thanksgiving with. The feast included standard American thanksgiving food like mashed potatoes, cornbread, pie, and sweet potatoes. Quote of the night came from one of the British students remarking on the fact that the sweet potatoes were covered with marshmallows: “Oh there go the Americans putting sugar on everything they can.” We spent the Thanksgiving comparing and contrasting American and British holiday traditions. Christmas in the UK starts as soon as Halloween ends. The decorations went up and the Christmas music began in the stores.
This abroad experience was one of the greatest things that I’ve ever done in my life. I can’t imagine going abroad anywhere else besides Bangor and very happy with the choice I made and the places I traveled to! I’m returning back to DU and more confident person ready for all the challenges life brings!
My first term at the University of York is drawing to a close, and as I prepare to head home for Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve put together some things I’ve learned about living as an American in England after my first chunk of my exchange year.
- Yorkshire is a county full of immense local pride. Nothing quite brings that to your attention like standing in a crowd of locals at a concert who are all chanting “York-shire! York-shire!” Nothing quite makes you feel as viscerally at home than joining in that chant and having it swell to the point where you can feel it resonate in your chest.
- Nothing teaches you humility like trying to learn all the ins and outs of life in North Yorkshire. Most of the locals have been happy to explain everything to me from how FIFA works, to how a football team makes the world cup, to why people care so much about football in the first place, to what on earth a “brolly” is (Hint: it’s an umbrella). Sometimes you can pick up on cultural nuances via context clues, but sometimes you can’t. And that’s fine! Plucking up the courage to ask what may be a pretty obvious question is an exercise in humility that everyone needs eventually. And it opens up an opportunity for locals to demonstrate kindness and patience towards you. Which, more often than not, they are happy to do.
- England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Should you choose to go abroad anywhere in the UK, don’t underestimate the differences in these dialects and the cultural differences they bring. You’ll inevitably slip up at some point and say something embarrassing. It’s alright. It’ll happen. But the key to managing a new culture (even one that may not seem that different than home), is always listening. Go and spend time with just local people for awhile (as in actively seek out local company rather than just hanging out with other international students. You already know how to relate to Americans, it’s not going to challenge you to relate to them in another country) and just listen to the conversation before jumping in. English folks have very different methods of making friends than Americans, and you can really only learn this on the job.
- A political discussion is going to eventually come up. At some point, it’s likely that whomever you’re talking to will criticize something about America. You may or may not agree with said criticism. Whatever your opinion, wait before jumping to defend your home country. Probe a little. Ask more questions. Figure out what is influencing this person to think the way that they do. Then add your own opinion to the mix. Not only does this make for a more fruitful exchange, it sends a more positive message about Americans in general-that they’re politically aware and willing to try to see issues on a global scale, rather than just a countrywide one. And do keep in mind that every country in the world has serious issues and has made serious mistakes. Admitting to and expressing shame or sorrow over mistakes our nation has made doesn’t make you unpatriotic. It makes you honest.
- And finally, on a lighter note, give yourself permission to be silly. Everyone’s got a goofy side, and it often gives others permission to unleash their goofiness when they see yours. Even if (in my case) that means screeching your way through a karaoke rendition of the Time Warp. People will wonder how many drinks it took for you to pull off that entire dance and all the spoken bits (the answer, surprisingly, as zero. The karaoke bar in question was really expensive). But then they’ll quit wondering and dance the Time Warp with you in the haze of the fake smoke machine and leave breathless and grinning. And it’s moments like those, in addition to the more serious ones, where international bridges are built and some special friendships are formed, when people don’t feel the need to choose between silliness and seriousness. Both are integral parts of being human, I think.
It’s been a fantastic first term. For those of you heading back to the States for good, don’t let your experience fade. Write about it and preserve it. For those of you staying abroad for the whole year-we’re just getting started. Let’s make it count.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger
So at some point in your study abroad experience, you’re going to start missing home very very keenly. It’ll happen at a different time for everyone-for some of you it’ll be right from the get-go and then you’ll gradually settle in. For others, you’ll have an amazing first few weeks and then once the first month rolls around you’ll find yourself missing the smallest things about DU, Colorado, or wherever your home state may be. The point is, it’s going to happen at some point, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone. I started missing home a lot when there were more and more days like this:
(Rainy, cold, and brutally windy)
….than days like this:
(sunny and positively enchanting).
What started to get to me especially were the shortened days. And I don’t mean Colorado shortened days where the sun goes down a bit after dinnertime and everyone feels like going to bed a bit early. No, I mean 4 pm, the sun is out of here, and you’ve still got part of the afternoon and an entire evening to get through before it’s acceptable to go to bed. And then the sun doesn’t come up again until 7:15, but it won’t really seem like it because it’s usually so overcast in the mornings this time of year. That’s difficult to figure out how to deal with, especially since Colorado spoils you so hard with its 300+ sunny days per year and its reliably spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
So I’ve had to do some strategizing. The first thing was making further use of the light box that my friend who went on this exchange program last year gave me. I have it on whenever I’m in my room, especially when it’s dark, and the added (if simulated) natural light does a lot to boost my mood. The second thing was to beat the sun at its own game. If sunset was going to happen at 4 pm, then I am going to get up with the sun and soak up all the vitamin D I can while it’s around. That’s turned out to be a pretty good strategy, as it leads to morning walks around campus and around town where there’s this gorgeous mist that settles over everything and then slowly burns off as the sun rises.
The third helpful thing in beating the winter-darkness blues has been to look up. And that may seem like a vague bit of advice. But when I walk places, I tend to look at my feet or the ground in front of me a lot. This is born partially out of habit, and partly because I have been known to be quite clumsy and can avoid tripping over things if I’m watching where those things are. This also means that I miss a lot. So I’ve started to very intentionally vary my gaze while I’m walking places-whether it’s up at the trees, straight ahead at the people passing by, or to the side to look at the charming Yorkshire houses-I’m doing my best to quit looking at the ground.
And it helps! I’ve started to notice little things that I love about York that I wouldn’t have noticed before. There’s little grannies all over the place in town that argue with one another in thick northern accents about where they should go shopping next. All the dog owners in York chastise their dogs for not walking fast enough, while the dogs themselves just stare adoringly at their owners without a care in the world, because York is a great place to be a dog. You can catch little gaggles of schoolchildren at the right time of day heading off to classes and chuckle at their matching uniforms and ties bouncing over their shoulders as they race each other to get to the playground.
In short, looking up helps to remind me that the things I love about York far outweigh the frustration that comes with rainy, short days. So when you end up missing home or getting caught up in the annoying things about your host city, remember it’s not permanent. Seasons change. Rainy days end. The sun will rise and set resolutely, regardless of how short its allotted time in the sky is. And in the meantime, there are delightful and quirky things to be found in your host city, it just takes a little searching.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger.
Greetings fellow Pios!
I have successfully completed an entire week of classes at the University of York, which means that I have finished my third week abroad when factoring in my pre-class time here in England. The past three weeks have been eventful, complete with me discovering misty, Charlotte Bronte-esque fields around campus:
And even venturing off campus, out of the city and up to the seaside to find the sun that can be quite elusive sometimes in York:
As it would seem I am somewhat “settled in” now, I have compiled a list of protips and anecdotes that have aided in the settling process for your reading pleasure.
Faith’s Settling in Protips-or, How to Not Make a Complete Fool of Yourself While Studying Abroad.
- In your Study Abroad 101 sessions and regional sessions, the DUSA staff will tell you over and over again that you will need to learn self-advocacy while abroad, even more so than while you are at DU. Take that seriously, because it’s so true. Here at York Uni, they won’t chase you down to make sure you’ve registered your visa or registered for classes or are even in the proper department. They’ll just conclude that you’re not a full-time student if you don’t handle those things yourself, and you will have to deal with immigration services in an unpleasant way. (Now, that’s not to say that the University of York doesn’t have any student support services. They have a very well-developed student welfare system, but it handles personal matters and not academic ones).
- Fall asleep in your first formal class. Be really embarrassed about it because you were in the front row and your prof totally saw you dozing. Then let it go, because it happens to the best of us, and sometimes the quickest lessons are learned by humiliation.
- Realize that there are very few contact hours in England (especially in York) universities when compared to the States. Plan out your own study hours carefully so you don’t get screwed over, and then look for a volunteer position or even a part-time job to fill the downtime. It’s a great way to get connected with the community and meet people outside the Uni.
- See if your school has an International Student’s Association. They may have a very active one like at York that plans day trips nearly every weekend of the term. Go on a few of these, even if you barely know the people there. Connecting with other internationals has been hugely beneficial to me as they are well aware of any difficulties I’m having getting used to English life.
- Step outside your comfort zone a bit when it comes to socialization. Don’t do things that are contrary to your personality or convictions, but if you’re not a huge late night person, push yourself and try going to a pub night once a week. So far, I’ve found that pubs in York are an excellent way to get to know your new friends and classmates. Typically, they are not very noisy and have a warm, homey atmosphere that facilitates get-to-know-you moments. Trying out different pubs in your area is also a great way to get to know the city.
Every study abroad experience is going to be different and is going to require different levels and forms of personal growth. But I would venture to say that the concepts of learning to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself, trying new things socially and academically, and making friends in groups you wouldn’t have even considered previously are fairly universal.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger
Check out what Jacques, one of our students is, doing studying at the University Glasgow in Scotland. We feel that this picture of his friend sums it up pretty well, but check out his blog for more details!
Hello! Just finished my first week of classes abroad. I am taking three classes: a management class that covers a requirement back at DU, a history of Wales class covering the age of Princes, and a Making Snowdonia geography class. The latter is a field course, so five weeks of lectures about the environment and neighboring national park, but then in week six the class goes on field trips around Snowdonia National Park to different sites to learn about the agriculture, geology, plants, and animals of the area. I have class a day for one or two hours depending on the class, so there’s a lot of downtime in my life right now. It’ll get busier as the semester progresses I’m sure with papers and tests. My weekly schedule is never the same because each class session is revered in itself because it might be taught by a different professor and they have planned to a T what will happen. It’s a little irritating but it is what it is. Also, every other week or so there is a tutorial session where the class is broken into smaller groups and attendance is recorded to monitor our progress.
The dorm is very nice. I like having my own little room to come to at the end of every day. The kitchen is shared with six other people. I have cooked a few times. Last Tuesday I thought I started the stove, so I had my pot with the water I thought was boiling on top, but turns out I had just turned the oven on. My Scottish flatmate came in and asked me if I was using “the hob” and I replied “the what???” and she then turned off oven and turned on the stove so whew no harm done with the accidental turning on of oven. For future reference for myself, hob = stove. Although the dorms are very new and very clean, there have apparently in the past been problems with the fire alarms. All over the door to my room and in the kitchen there are signs warning against false fire alarms due to unattended cooking, aerosol use, or steam from showers. And every Thursday they do a sound check of the system. So I am always very nervous that the alarm will go off since it is notoriously triggered easily. My “RA” (who are called Wardens here, and the individual dorm buildings are known as blocks…) when giving the safety talk to our flat said that there will be a fire drill sometime soon and one IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT… awesome..just awesome.
I mentioned in my first post that Bangor is a very hilly city. And boy is that the truth. Everyday I’m walking somewhere and huffing and puffing up and down these hills carrying my bag. The city is classified into two parts: Upper Bangor and Lower Bangor. Upper Bangor is where the university is situated and where I live; lower Bangor is where the high street is and the railway station and bigger grocery stores. The hill that I walk that connects the two is fondly known as “B**ch Hill” by the students. I had heard about this infamous part of Bangor before coming to Bangor but I’d thought it the hill from the site my dorm is on to Morrison’s the grocery store, so when I had felt like the walk to Morrison’s was actually pretty easy, the universe laughed and I found the bigger hill.
I really do walk everywhere. Today, for example, I think I trekked 6+ miles round trip to Penrhyn Castle just outside the city. So my feet hurt all the time and my shoes are already being worn down! But hopefully all this walking will mean great legs for ski season!
During welcome week, the university held their giant two day “Fresher’s Fair” full of all of the clubs and societies available. I ended up putting my name down for the majority because hey it’s fun and a lot of the tables had free stuff. This week the clubs and societies had taster sessions to go to if you wanted more information about the particular club. Thus far I have gone to a Mad Hatter tea party for the Books and Quills club, a craft night for the craft club, a BBQ for the gardening club, and a grub crawl for the Christian Union. I don’t know (or think) I will official join anything but all of these were a great way to meet more people and experience their uni life.
It’s all a overwhelming experience so far but I take it day by day and I constantly remind myself to soak it all in because this is once in a lifetime and I am grateful for all the opportunities and chances I have thus far! Can’t wait to see what’s next!