How to Survive Your First Week Abroad

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:

Where’s Heathcliff?

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:

Seaside sunrises are something else.

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.
Exploring Cambridge, England with a fellow international student from Germany!
  • 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

I just want to know where the trash bags are. I promise.

The view of the Ouse river running through central York on a sunny day.

York is such a charming city it’s almost paralyzing. Everything is built in that sweet old European style that if I were a different major I would have smart things to say about, but I’m not and I don’t, so I just will call it charming and sweet instead. The city is easy to navigate, has a lively nightlife and plenty to do during the day, and friendly bus drivers to boot. With enchanting views like this one and picturesque medieval walls surrounding the city, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about anything, apparently. So far in my stay at the U of York’s (or as the townies call it, the Uni) accommodations, most of my interactions with the reception staff have not gone very well. And this surprised me quite a bit because I consider myself to be a very polite and respectful person, always smiling and lightly self-deprecating to make other people feel comfortable, and the reception staff has also been very polite. But when I ask them things about normal Uni processes, things go a bit sour.

I was cooking some noodles in the kitchen last night and it occurred to me that the trash can was already completely full, even though orientation week hasn’t started yet, much less classes. So I went down to reception and asked if the cleaning staff took out the trash and replaced the bags or if that was up to the students. The reception staff raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips at me, as if my question was incredibly obvious and a stupid one to ask. I shrunk inwardly, feeling stupid. DU is a very nice school where the front desk supplies trash bags for dorms and the cleaning staff takes out the trash in the kitchens. I assumed something similar might happen at York.

Bad assumption.

The reception staff informed me somewhat coldly that students were responsible for taking out the trash, but they would supply replacement bags. I smiled and apologized probably too many times, trying to explain that things worked differently at different universities and I was just trying to understand their system, and not to demand that they take out the trash for me. They seemed to understand and I took my overanalyzing self back to the kitchen to take out the trash.

So what did I learn from this horribly awkward interaction? A few things.

  • Drop any and all assumptions about how this new place works.
  • Mentally prepare yourself for flexibility and the possibility of misunderstanding when operating in a completely different higher education system.
  • Adopt a friendly demeanor to help clear up any misunderstandings. Smiles vary in their frequency in different countries, but they can always help ease what would otherwise be a tense situation.

And in the meantime, don’t worry about the trash. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it out and then move on.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger