The Benefits of Studying Abroad?
Studying abroad is undoubtedly one of the most riveting and rewarding experiences a university student can undertake. Not only does it give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a completely new culture and environment, but you will also be able to add a unique, global perspective to your study, travel the world, make new friends and practice your language skills.
Immerse yourself in a completely new culture and environment
During my second year of university, I was gripped by an intense desire to travel and see the world. But not only that, I wanted to live and study in that country as well. Participating in a university exchange program would allow me to satisfy both my desire to travel internationally and experience a foreign country in a way I never could as a tourist.
When I received my offer letter to study abroad for six months at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norfolk, England, I immediately accepted and quickly preceded to book my flight and pack my bags. I had received my acceptance letter only a few short weeks out from my start date on the 7th January!
I flew out of Sydney Airport bound for Heathrow on the 2nd of January, but not after a tearful goodbye with my parents. I knew they were worried I would get homesick for Australia, but I was determined to be autonomous and take of myself. I still can’t believe I managed to fly halfway across the world all on my own without any major issues!
Arriving in England on a bitterly cold morning, I collected my bags and made my way to the train station. One thing I have to stress when you’re overseas – don’t be afraid to ask for directions! I had to ask a few people for help before I finally found the right train line and platform. I was staying with some relatives in the south of London for the night before catching a bus to Norfolk in the morning. But overnight, a huge snowstorm swept through the country and London immediately descended into gridlock. Somehow, through a sheer stroke of luck, my coach scrapped through and we made it to Norwich.
Instead of staying at the International College, I had voted to stay at one of the colleges reserved for first-year English students and international students. So when I stepped off the bus, a student representative greeted me and took me up to my residence, the snow so thick she had to help me drag my bag up the hill! Luckily the residence was incredibly close to the rest of the university and I thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t chosen the International College, which was even further up the hill.
Despite the extreme weather, starting my English adventure off with a snowstorm couldn’t have been a better start and I bonded with my fellow flatmates by building snowmen and participating in a massive, campus-wide snowball fight. The friendships I developed at the University, really helped me to overcome my homesickness.
There were so many other exciting things to learn about England, as well as things to teach! I can’t remember how many times I had to tell my English friends that Australians, under no circumstances, use the word ‘shrimp’ to describe prawns, but my protestations often fell on deaf ears. It was also interesting to observe all the different words the English use to describe everyday objects – I really had no clue we could be quite so different and realised that culturally, we have a lot more in common with the US.
Add a unique, global perspective to your study
Once I settled into the residence and classes started, I really began to fully appreciate how lucky I was to be studying Political and International Studies abroad and to be collaborating and studying with students from all around the world. During lectures and tutorials, we were able to put our heads together and use our unique perspectives and combined knowledge to comprehensively explore complicated concepts and ideas.
The English University system is also very different from the Australian one, where a full-time workload equals three units, rather than the usual four here in Australia. A smaller number of units meant I devoted a much higher number of hours to each unit per week. This allowed me the unprecedented opportunity to explore my unit’s and their subject matter in a deeply immersive way.
Travel the world, make new friends and practice your language skills
But it wasn’t all work no play! During the two-week Easter break, I travelled around England, Scotland and Wales. When my six months at UEA ended, I was able to backpack with some high school friends around Europe for three weeks – a rite of passage for all young Australians. We visited France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. A highlight for me was visiting Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny, where I was encouraged to practice my high school French at a local Giverny café called Les Nymphéas.
After my European adventure, I returned to England for one last tour of London before flying back to Australia, my suitcase heavier and my mind filled with the vivid memories I’d made in England. I knew I would not only miss the new friends I’d made, but I would also desperately miss the significant lack of mosquitos and poisonous bugs. The most dangerous thing I came across during my entire time in the United Kingdom was a pheasant that almost drove us off the road, so enchanted were we by its mesmerising feathers. Now that I think about it, I only ever saw one spider the entire time I lived in England.
I loved my exchange program so much, that if I could go back and do things differently, the only thing I’d change about my experience is go on exchange for the full year, instead of just the six months!