Study Abroad: Pre-Departure

General travel tip: if you can fit in your suitcase, it's too fucking big

I write this off the back of a three-day run of open days for the University of Manchester, representing the English and American Studies department (and shamelessly proselytising the visiting students). It turned out to be hugely enlightening in terms of how much I've enjoyed my degree, and everything I've gained from it now I'm graduating. But of course the main thing students asked about was studying abroad, so I'll tackle some FAQs here. There's a lot to think about when it comes to study abroad, so this first post will cover the application process and preparation for travel.

1. Was it good?
Best year of my life, no question. You travel, you meet amazing people from all over the world, you experience things you'd never dream of, you're exposed to academic courses that might be unavailable at home. If you can, GO.

2. Where should I go?
Just like applying for university in general, you should look at all aspects of your options: academic strengths, whether they have campus or urban settings, reputation, even climate. I mean, if you're a person who can't stand cold weather, Scandinavia and Canada are not good bets. Even within the University of California system the different campuses have completely different reputations, e.g. UC Irvine is a very studious, academic school, whereas UCSB (while still very academically strong) is a party town. I didn't know this before I got there, but luckily I was into it. So do some intensive Googling, after all you will be living in this place for up to a year.


3. How much does it cost?
This is very much dependent on your own Student Finance eligibility, as well as the programme you're enrolled on. In some cases your student loan might be increased for your study abroad year. If you're lucky like me, you might be able to claim money back for flights, visas and health insurance. But bare in mind the costs on top of day-to-day living, because in some countries health insurance is a mandatory extra cost, and if you intend to travel while abroad you might need to budget for that. In many cases, visa restrictions will prevent you from working. Many students apply for university knowing they will intend to study abroad, and therefore live at home throughout their degree in order to save money for that year abroad. However, some countries such as Australia do allow visitors on student visas to work, and of course within the EU this is also an option, meaning that you might be able to work and earn some extra money while studying.
*And of course you might find a little cash-in-hand work but you didn't hear it from me

4. Was it useful?
The skills you acquire from studying abroad are innumerable. In terms of your degree, the opportunity to take classes in an entirely different academic environment will enrich your understanding of your subject. For me, as an American Studies student, living and studying there was invaluable due to the insights it provided. But even in subjects as diverse as sciences or Economics, participating in the academic life of another institution will teach you different approaches to the subjects, different priorities within research and academic development. And of course, language students could not ask for a better way to put their skills into practice.
On a personal level, there are so many new things you encounter every single day while studying abroad that you cannot but grow as a person. You gain the ability to adapt and thrive in new and challenging situations, very appealing to future employers. You're more willing to take risks, but also better at assessing them. And you might end up making contacts not just in your host country, but from many others to – I befriended people from Moldova, France, Brazil, Hong Kong, Thailand, New Zealand, and I could go on...

I was trying to attract sharks - my friend was not amused

Bonus question: what should I pack?
You may think this doesn't need saying, but make sure you've packed properly. For real. I packed on the morning I left, hungover and anxious, meaning that I spent my first few months living in Southern bloody California with no swimwear, beach towel, or weather-appropriate clothing. I mean I actually came out there in my vintage 1950s Canadian army jacket and Doc Martens. You change as a person while studying abroad, and I ended up buying a whole wardrobe of Forever 21 typical SoCal girlie stuff, but I think just bringing the right kind of things in the first place might have meant I was less constricted in the activities I could get involved in. And also that I wouldn't have gone surfing in my underwear (no pictures available, sorry).

I'm a big fan of studying abroad, I think it's really one of the best things that university can offer you.  It allows you to dip your toe into what it's like to live in another country, but with all the support systems universities provide that simply wouldn't be available to non-students.  I'm more than happy to answer questions, and there will be more posts in the future about other aspects of studying abroad, as well as a close look at both UCSB and Isla Vista, the town it's situated in.

No comments:

Post a Comment