A Broad Studying Abroad: “What No One Tells You About Studying Abroad”

Earlier this week, one of our editors, Laura, rang in her first full month of living abroad in Norwich, England while she studies at the University of East Anglia. Read the second post of Laura’s blog series “A Broad Studying Abroad” wherein she discusses what she has learned in the past four weeks about both England and the experience of studying abroad as a whole!

What No One Tells You About Studying Abroad

Laura Barker

Tuesday marked my first full month of living abroad. Overall, it’s been fantastic: the people couldn’t be nicer, the classes are great, and I get to explore the charming little village of Norwich. But with a month’s worth of experience under my belt, I’m starting to realize there are a lot of things the study abroad office doesn’t prepare you for. Below, I’ve jotted down five little rants on issues that weren’t discussed in the handouts.

1. Beware of scams and hidden costs

My friend’s dog threw up on my foot once, and that was a more pleasant experience than attempting to register at the University of East Anglia’s gym. I tried going three separate times, and each time a different sneering girl made me feel like a complete idiot and gave me different information than the girl before her. But the most offensive part was the price. UEA said that the gym was free to students, and it is: you can stand in the hall free of charge. However, if you want to actually work out, you have to pay hefty fees to use specific rooms, and there’s a mandatory ‘introductory’ session that I won’t even tell you the price of. It took me upwards of twenty minutes to find the actual prices for what I wanted to do at the gym (I’m a simple gal, all I need is a treadmill and a water fountain), but when I calculated how much that would cost, my heart dropped. Be sure to read the fine print, as one girl I knew got charged £130 for a gym membership she thought she was paying £50 for.

2. People are fascinated with international students

One of my favorite things is seeing a classmate’s face light up when they realize I’m from Chicago, “Deep dish pizza! Al Capone! The Bean!” You also become the expert in all things American. Some of my favorite questions I’ve been asked so far include:

1. Why are you all so obsessed with baseball?
2. How many guns do you own?
3. Is Donald Trump real?

And the political debates I’ve had here are some of the most riveting I’ve ever had. British students know absolutely everything about American politics, and I’m proud of myself for knowing the name of their prime minister.

3. Loneliness

You will be lonely at some point while studying abroad. You are in a foreign country living with complete strangers. Your friends and family and hundreds of miles away, and the time difference makes staying in touch even more difficult. There is also the cultural difference: ‘hanging out’ is much less popular here. People meet for meals and going out to the pub or a party. Studying and free time are generally solitary. As someone who is used to being bombarded with love and attention by her five suitemates, the sudden increase in alone time made me feel isolated. However, I think this can lead to one of the greatest things about studying abroad, which I speak on in point #5.

4. You will pick up on the slang unnaturally fast

In my second week abroad, I ran into a (very attractive) friend of my flat mate at the pub.
“You alright?” he asked at the exact same time I said, “How’s it going?” He made a face, “Don’t say that. Nobody says that.” He laughed as I struggled to count the coins for my beer, “Ah, don’t worry, mate. You’ll figure it out soon enough.”
He was right. Days later, my slang was already evolving. Roommates were now flat mates, being drunk changed to being pissed, grilled cheese turned into cheese toastie, and I finally started using the proper British greetings. I also learned a delightful bunch of British swears, which I will not post because my grandma might read this.

5. The friendships you make are really extraordinary

Although I’ve known my friends and flat mates for just over a month, we all talk about how intensely close we’ve all become in such a short period of time. We’ve fought, shared our backstories, and formed closer bonds with each other than with other people we’ve known for years. Studying abroad is a bizarre point of life. You are thrust into a strange land with a bunch of other strangers who are just as confused as you are. But we huddle together and slowly figure everything out, from the slang to the food to homesickness to whatever Cheeky Nandos is. You grow together, creating a rich and one of a kind relationship along the way.



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