At the end of 2016 I found myself facing some pretty tough decisions.
As you know, I was scheduled to spend Christmas Recess in Germany. I did get to Stuttgart for a week and had a lovely time. However, less than halfway into my time there I ended up traveling home to the US unexpectedly. Now it looks like I will be staying here in The States indefinitely.
Yes, that means I am dropping out of university. And yes, in a sense it means that my adventure in Wales is over for good.
I loved everything about living and studying in Wales. I am going to miss my British friends and professors dearly. I learned much from studying in another country, and even more from just living there.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity I had to live abroad for a year and a half. I consider my time in Wales to be one of the most glorious chapters in my life thus far. It ended sooner than I expected, but that does not in any way detract from what it was while it lasted.
I am still unclear where life will take me in the coming months. I know this much:
I may be helping my brother’s family move across the country (road trip anyone?).
I will be spending lots of time with my younger siblings, homeschooling them and making up for the time lost while abroad.
So you can see, there are a whole lot of uncertainties. Thus, this blog will have to evolve quite a bit. I understand that if you started following me because you were curious about studying abroad, our journey together may be coming to an end. That’s fine! Thanks for joining me!
However, if you’ve enjoyed following the mishaps and stupid mistakes that make up my life, I welcome you to stay on for the ride.
I don’t know where I am going. I cannot promise international travel; in fact, I don’t expect any. Still, I’ve got a feeling that there are a lot more exciting turns of a new kind on the horizon. I am ready to embrace them as they come. And I am sure that the adventure is only beginning.
I’m hoping you didn’t notice that life updates, blogposts, emails… have all fallen into an abyss this term. Last summer my bestest friend (and incredible blogger over at Crafted Fragments) taught me that it is okay to not be okay. So I guess I am here to admit that
*drum roll please*
*actually just kidding, it really not that dramatic*
I haven’t been okay.
Second year has been much more challenging, academically, spiritually, and emotionally than first year.
It would be unfair for me, as a blogger and public promotor of studying abroad, to pretend that studying abroad is all roses and sunshine. I still think that studying abroad is a worthwhile experience, but I am learning more and more how challenging it can be.
I like to blog about the embarrassing and hilarious mishaps, and yet I’ve been in such a stinky mood lately that I haven’t been able to turn misadventures into blogposts.
*Can someone interrupt here and say “THAT IS OKAY!”… Nope? Nooone. Kay, I’m just gonna pretend someone did and keep on…*
Despite a fair amount of stress, confusion and general moohoomooness, I’m surrounded by incredible people who make my life worth waking up to live each morning. And I’ve got the support of my incredible family and friends back at home.
Despite the challenges, I’m still having the adventure of a life time.
So, as I get back onto my feet after a rough term, expect to see more blogposts (amazing guest post coming up this week!), more adventures, and more positivity.
I’ve realised that figuring things out all on my lonsesome is no way to live. So, for better or worse, this blog is going to continue to be my channel to turn those embarassing face-palm moments into (hopefully) entertaining and/or inspiring (don’t wanna get too ambitious) blogposts.
In other words my grumpiness, moohoomoo, emmbarassing moments, and other emotional garbage is making a comeback. So brace yourselves.
So there is this museum in my adopted city. It is the most classic of classic museums. You know what I’m talking about?
Think grand marble steps, an impressively over-priced gift shop, exhibits filled with mediocre biology facts and a few cool Van Goh paintings, a busy lobby populated by a healthy mix of sophisticated people and people pretending to be sophisticated.
As a humanities major, I feel obliged to be familiar with the best attractions in Cardiff, particularly the museums. However, the dirty truth of the matter is that I hate museums. Really, I can’t stand them.
I tried countless times in high school to enjoy them and consistently came home feeling sick to my stomach (either from looking at too many naked Greeks or from standing behind a fur-coated woman wearing way too much perfume… sometimes both).
All of last year, I told myself I was going to go to the museum. All of last year I never did. So on a lazy rainy day last week I put my foot down and decided I was going to that museum and I was going to enjoy it.
Guess what folks? I had a major epiphany about art, life, and the way to enjoy a museum. I learned that while museums in themselves are not interesting to me, the museum experience can be delightful. In other words, if you don’t like going to museums maybe you aren’t going to museums in the right way.
Here are five steps I designed to help you make the most of your museum experience, even if you hate museums:
Step One: Dress for Success!
The first step to a successful trip to the museum is to get into fancy mode. Dress up a little (for me this meant covering my t-shirt up with the only non-thrifted coat that I own). Do your hair (for me, this meant putting my hair in a pony-tail, which is basically the only hairstyle I know how to do). Maybe even put on some of that perfume you received as a birthday present two years ago!
Now that you look and smell sophisticated, pull out your most romantic umbrella and walk to the museum.
Step Two: Choose A Viewing Strategy
There are two main strategies to choose from:
Walk through the museum as the struggling/starving artist looking for inspiration (you know, the one who only has enough money in the bank for one more cup of coffee and is saving it for the perfect moment in which coffee and genius will meet and produce a masterpiece).
Walk through the museum as the rich woman who walks through art galleries because it is the most natural sort of thing to do on a Monday afternoon.
I forgot to bring my worn journal with me (an essential prop for method #1), so I decided to opt for the second method and put on my best “I’m fancier than you” smile as I slowly meandered through the exhibits.
Guess what? I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Maybe it is cause I skipped the naked Greeks and was lucky enough not to get stuck behind a lady with dizzying layers of perfume.
Step Three: Be Willing To Learn Something
Seriously folks, in high school I reveled in the fact that I had/have no artistic talent or ability whatsoever. Any appreciation of art was limited to the my-goodness-how-is-that-even-humanely-possible-cause-I-could-never-do-something-like-that variety. While that is definitely a healthy feeling in small doses, walking through an entire museum and only appreciating art at that surficial a level gets dreary pretty fast.
I had to stay open to enjoy art in a new and hopefully slightly deeper way. I’ve been thinking about aesthetics a lot recently. I’ve been trying to incorporate ideas about aesthetics into my life (i.e. designing my room, simplifying my to-do list, and organizing my life, school, and the food on my plate in a visually appealing way). All this thought about aesthetics gave me a new way to look at paintings. Something about the Van Goh collection made my heart feel a little warmer:
The spacing, lighting, and use of color struck me as it never had before. I realized that I know nothing about art and/or art history, but a few paintings inspired me to want to learn more:
Then, of course, there was the portrait gallery. Imagine if you were rich enough to spend a gabijillion dollars on a commissioned portrait? How would you want to present yourself to the world? What background, body language, and props would you use? It is like a majorly amplified version of analyzing people’s facebook profile photos…?
I have an embarrassingly juvenile understanding of art, but by dropping my I-just-don’t-care-whatsoever attitude, I was able to appreciate it in my own way.
The contemporary art still jarred me pretty bad. I’m not on that level of art appreciation yet, but can’t you see I’m improving!?!?
Step Four: Don’t Forget The People
I am quite happy to have had a *major* epiphany about the glories of art, still, however, the best part of the museum was (as it always is for me) observing people observing art. Let me try that again… in non-creepy terms:
It isn’t just the Van Goh alone, it is the two high schoolers non-subtly prowling around the Van Goh looking for the best angle for an artsy profile picture of their own.
It isn’t just about the Vermeer, it is about the young couple holding hands as they gaze at the Vermeer, giggling about how they happen to have just the same sort of analysis of every painting they’ve seen so far! It was meant to be!
It isn’t just about the Pollock, it is about the fancy old woman who can look at that painting and draw inspiration from it for the 1,000th time.
In other words, it isn’t just about the artifacts, it is about the way that we interact with the artifacts and use them to make sense of the world.
Step Five: Take time to reflect
Don’t let the observations, feelings, thoughts, and questions that undoubtedly ran through you as you observed the galleries go to waste! Sit down, if you have money enough, buy an over-priced black coffee in the cafe and let the inspiration whirl. If not, just sit on a bench for a minute and give yourself time to process. Note any major revelations or BFOs (blinding flash of the obvious) that you may have had.
And there you have it! How to enjoy a museum. All in all, I felt that it was a worthwhile use of 20 minutes of my Monday afternoon.
What is your favorite thing to do when visiting a fancy museum?
In the first week or so of your time abroad, it may seem as though the world has opened unlimited opportunities. However, once you fall into a semi-normal routine and fall in love with your new home, your time will undoubtedly begin marching into an invisible black hole, never to return (true story, not joking).
I know, I know, you are having the adventure of your life! You need to stay flexible to last-minute invitations and off-the-cuff adventures. Still, if you don’t schedule your time, you’ll be on the plane home before you blink twice, wondering how you got through the entire study abroad without ever visiting the castle five minutes from your house or trying that weird food you saw in every shop?
If you were just traveling, you’d have a little more wiggle room to be flexible all the time. However, the glory of studying abroad is that you get to LIVE in a new place. If you don’t ever have a semi-normal routine, it will never feel like a home. If you just let life come at you, you will very soon find yourself swimming unsatisfied in school projects and half-baked friendships.
Okay, let’s just say you are. Now, how do you go about scheduling the ‘adventure-of-a-lifetime’?
For me, it came down to creating a list of priorities and making sure I balanced my time according to my most important priorities.
Time to Study
Relationship with professors and academics
This seems stupidly obvious, but guys, it is easier than you think to get overwhelmed with life itself and all the changes and kinda-sorta forget that you are here to learn something and earn some college credit. Don’t let your school assignments fall by the wayside til the last minute. Do you know what that leads to? That leads to stressing and cramming on assignments at the end of the year when you finally actually have friends that you could be doing cool stuff with.
Time to Explore
Exploring your city
Exploring local attractions
Don’t just live in a new place, explore every inch of it. It helps a lot if you research before you go. Make a bucket list of the coolest attractions in your city and the best day trips nearby. Use your bucket list to schedule out your weekend and school holidays.
Time to Make Friends
Don’t forget, building lasting relationships take time. What does that look like? It might mean offering to cook one of your favorite American dishes. Seriously folks, who could turn down a chance to try pumpkin pie, root beer floats, or some other famous speciality from your home region? Also, politely ask for help in assimilating to your friend’s culture. Be open to discussing things with coursemates and acquaintances. Meet up before or after class to share a coffee and a language lesson. Give yourself time to hang out with friends, focusing on building a few deep relationships rather than trying to meet every single person in your course.
Time to Stay Connected
Letter writing/pen pals
Staying connected to friends and family
You don’t need to totally abandon your friends and family back at home, but schedule your time on FaceTime and social media so that it doesn’t get out of hand. You are here to have new experiences and meet new people. While your family will really appreciate you staying connected to them, don’t bring your whole life with you across the ocean… trust me, trying to balance two lives at once is gonna leave you depressed, lonely, and exhausted.
Time to Stay Healthy
A lot of people gain a ton of weight while studying abroad. It is shockingly easy to let your health habits slide when you are busy taking in a new place. It will take time, effort, and planning, to stay on track.
Time to Reflect
Be conscious about your experiences, don’t let life just slip by you. Journaling helped me to consider the changed that were going on around me and in me. Taking time to articulate the kind of cultural confusion and pains and joys I experienced helped me to gain more out of it all in the end.
To summarise, keep track of your goals (including schoolwork, friendships, and bucket list of attractions), relax, and spend time to reflect on what is going on.
Wanna know my least favorite word in the whole dictionary?
When it comes time for me to say goodbye, you’ll probably find me trying to slip into the back of a car trunk until it is all over. Very elegant, I know. Unfortunately, my all-out aversion to goodbyes has led to some awkward and jarring exits.
I do want to leave my family and friends on a good note, but how?
I have been devising a few strategies for turning the goodbye experience into something positive. I mean seriously guys, who wants to leave for their next adventure or start their new stage-of-life with the weight of a bad goodbye on their shoulders?
Here are some tips that have helped me tremendously:
For me, writing my thoughts on paper allows me to be much clearer and to-the-point about how I feel. If ever there is an excusable time to write a slightly mushy note telling someone how much they’ve always meant to you, it is right when you aren’t going to have to see them for a while.
So you see, goodbyes are the perfect window of time to write notes for family and loved ones. In a note you can:
1) apologise for not properly saying goodbye to them in person (if you are an absolute coward like me)
2) let them know how much they mean to you and how much you miss them
3) tell them something you’ve been meaning to tell them for a while but just didn’t get the chance.
When I moved away from my family for the first time, I tried to find simple goodbye gifts for each of my little siblings. For one sister it was a custom mug with Wales and North Carolina connected by a heart, for another it was a set of goodbye notes to be opened on different days and occasions with tiny trinkets (and money to buy ice cream) inside. It was a fun way for me to tell them ‘hey, I love you and will miss you’, without having to actually say that out loud (and burst out crying). Also, it gave them something to remember me by.
Hidden Notes/ Gifts
Now it is time for level 2 guys! When I left after a nice summer home, I took bright happy looking notecards attached to tiny gifts and hid them all over my sibling’s rooms. When I got back to Wales, they began SnapChatting me pictures as they found their little notes. It was great : )
Set up your next meeting
How is one supposed to cope with the thought of saying goodbye to your bestest friend when you don’t know if you will see them again in one year or even two? Don’t let the overwhelming absence even sink into your brain, trust me, that just isn’t a good idea. Instead, focus on planning your NEXT meeting. Even if the meeting is going to be in a LONG time, you can still dream about it a little.
Whether it is ‘Okay, so when you get back next summer we are defo going to that new Chinese restaurant’ or even ‘let’s plan our epic post-graduate caravan trip to Canada to see the Northern lights in 2020’, as practical or dreamy as your next meeting is, planning a new adventure is much more fun than admitting that your current one has come to an end.
Don’t Say Goodbye
The last and most questionable tactic (#questionablelifemottosfromsusanna) is to simply avoid the issue 100%. When you are at at the airport you need to be focusing on protecting precious documents and getting onto a plane on-time… not the right moment for an emotional break-down. So don’t let it sink in. Be like me and avoid the G word. Don’t acknowledge that you are leaving.
The more conventional and wise way to frame this would be to say: take life one step at a time, one moment at a time. Goodbyes become overwhelming when you focus on a future devoid of one (or all) of your dearest loved ones. However, that isn’t the healthy or realistic way to look at the situation.
You can’t know what your future will look like or who will be in it. You just have to trust that the Lord has a plan and that as you follow Him, things will become clearer and clearer in time. So hug your mom, kiss your little sister, and just don’t think about the dreadful reality that you are leaving them.
Ignore the goodbyes and focus on the hellos. Because did you know that every closed door means a new open door (or window?).
Every goodbye is followed by a fresh beginning.
Still, I’m obviously in the learning process. If you have any ideas, tips, or elegant and graceful ways to say goodbye… Share your wisdom with me in the comments!
My wonderful extraordinary just-lotsa-perfect-normal-days summer is officially over. The second year of adventures abroad has begun! I am writing this in a bus station in London. Just chilling here (desperately attempting to stay awake) for a few hours before my coach arrives. Woot woot!
It was hard saying goodbye to my family and friends, harder even than last year when I left for the first time. I don’t know when I’ll see them again.
Somehow a handful of uncertainty and a bag full of homesickiness found its way into my suitcase right next to my favorite pair of socks. I lugged them to the terminal (with a little extra stowed away in my carry-on), vainly hoping they’d throw it all out at customs or security.
It was tough leaving.
And yet as the plane began the descent into London, I noted the dreary morning rain burst and watched the adorable miniature cars driving on the wrong left side of the road, a group of cheerful Welsh women chatted excitedly two rows behind me, it all felt so right.
In my mind, there is no greater pleasure than a big ole icey drink (green tea, black coffee, or a chai tea latte if I’m feeling indulgent). I recently found this article, reminding me of one of my funny little struggles in the UK: the year-long search for decent iced coffee.
It probably has something to do with the fact that the temperature where I live rarely reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It may also have something to do with the local obsession with hot cups of tea. Whatever the reason, icey cold drinks never really caught on in the UK (except as a fad amongst the rich and famous during victorian times).
The first time I ordered an iced coffee in the UK was at Mcdonalds. Black iced coffee from MickeyDs is my one fo my favorite American drinks (fairly good quality and CHEAP CHEAP), so I walked boldly up to the counter and asked:
“Could I get an iced coffee please?”
After giving me a rather longish blankish stare, the attendant responded:
“You want ice in your coffee?…”
“How many ice cubes do you want in it?”
“No, not like that”. I scanned the menu and noted that iced coffee was nowhere to be seen. Still, I figured I was beyond the point of no return (and I still really really wanted a cold coffee), so I plowed onward. “Could you fill the whole cup with ice and just pour the coffee over it?”
In my head it all made sense, but the attendant seemed puzzled (to say the least). Five minutes later I received a hot cup of joe with four or five ice cubes floating inside.
As I sipped my luke-warm coffee I decided to laugh and chalk it up as one for experience.
Since then I’ve wondered if it would be a worthwhile endeavor to start a scrapbook to keepsake the flabbergasted and puzzled looks I receive as I continue to order ice coffees across the UK. I’ve learned that a few select places will make them! Costa does a weak coffee half diluted by melted ice and Starbucks sells a decent cold brew for an unholy price.
So you see, if at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Well… to a point. Iced tea is a food group where I come from. As much as I miss it, I still haven’t dared attempt an order. Why? I guess I’m a little scared it could lead to deportation. One does not mess with British tea.
Note: I should note that while I do like to laugh at my silly American troubles, I have genuinely learned to love hot drinks, particularly a classic cup of tea. I think it is important to at least semi-immerse yourself in the eating and drinking customs of the countries you visit (taking personal health constraints into account of course). Moving to the UK, I have learned to appreciate the art of tea and have begun to drink hot tea regularly (more than coffee!). While I still suffer from occasional iced coffee/tea withdrawals, I am a genuine convert to hot tea and I’m rather proud of that fact : )
What are your thoughts on food differences in culture? Is it important to eat what the locals eat? Or do you stick to your personal culinary habits when you travel?
Good morning lovelies! It is almost time for me to head back across the pond! As I get ready for my flight, it has been fun to reflect upon some of my favorite lil misadventures of last year. This post was originally written for CampusSociety, a new social media platform that connects uni students according to their interests, universities, courses, etc. Seriously folks, it’s my new favorite website. I spend a lot of time on there : )
I decided to write about the cultural differences I wasn’t expecting… told in the form of embarrassing stories because seriously folks, would you expect anything better from me? Without further ado:
Living in the UK has been an incredible adventure for me. I’ve loved almost every minute, but there were quite a few surprising cultural differences that I’ve found challenging to deal with. Of course, YouTube and google searches had me prepared to deal with word-choice differences, the obsession with tea and biscuits (which I quickly adopted), and other well-known cultural bits and bobs. However, there were a few surprising (and frankly hilarious) encounters that I never could have expected.
Allow me to embarrass myself:
The Volume Factor
I am used to talking above the crowd in public spaces. It seems natural to me, that if at a restaurant or public event everyone is talking around you, you have to talk above the din for your friends to hear you, right? Wrong.
My first social event in the UK was a real shock. Instead of talking above the humdrum of the room, each group of students talked beneath it. Did they expect me to know how to read lips? Because I physically could not hear/understand most of what they were saying!
The first few months of school consisted of a whole lot of smiling and ‘uhuhing’ without really having any idea what people were talking about. You know the funny thing though? I’ve gotten used to it! I can hear people now (or maybe I have subconsciously learned to read lips, which would be even cooler). And when I go back to America to visit, the noise levels in restaurants and other public spaces really annoy me.
Normalised Levels of Enthusiasm
I love, absolutely love, cooking. However, for the first few months of my study abroad in the United Kingdom, I was convinced that everyone else hated my food. I’d make a meal or a dessert and my friends would thank me with a simple: ‘that was nice’.
I’m used to my family exclaiming at almost everything I make: ‘‘This Broccoli is cooked PERFECTLY!’ and ‘This is probably the best pasta I have EVER HAD in my ENTIRE LIFE!’.
A few months into study abroad I met a new friend who told me that she had heard that I was a good cook. I couldn’t believe it! I genuinely thought that the lack of over-the-top enthusiasm meant that everyone hated my cooking!
Eventually I learned ‘that was nice’ actually means ‘that was nice’. It is a true compliment, not a polite way of saying that you want to vomit.
Pens > Pencils
Right before a lecture one day my friend turned to me and asked:
‘Susanna… why do you always use a pencil? It is kinda awkward.’
I was shocked. How was a pencil in anyway superior to a pen? My friend went on to explain that in primary school, only little children work with pencils. Eventually, when students handwriting is good enough, they are awarded their first pen.
The girl on the other side of me piped into the conversation: ‘Yeah, it is kinda a big deal. We don’t use pencils after that.’
One glance around the room and I quickly realized that I was the only student in the entire lecture hall using a pencil for my notes. But…but… I love my mechanical pencils!
Where is the Obsession with the Royal Family?
You know what is funny? When I arrived in Cardiff I figured out pretty quickly that Americans ( teenage American girls) may be significantly more obsessed with the royal family and the Union Jack than the average Brit. In fact, I think that I saw more Union Jack t-shirts, backpacks, iPhone cases, baseball caps, and wall posters in the U.S. than I have seen in the UK. And I must admit I’ve had to work to temper my enthusiastic squeals over every tidbit of William & Kate news.
Now, I am sure there must be Royal Family fans around in the UK. Maybe they are just harder to find… taking into account both of the things I’ve already talked about (normalised levels of enthusiasm and quieter voices in public), I could see how that would be.
Fashion And Style
One of the most obvious outward things I noticed upon arriving in Wales was the sense of fashion was so different than what I was used to. I loved the thick scarves and chunky heels that girls wore. I loved the fact that even when it was raining, everyone still managed to look super stylish. It wasn’t long before I was feeling supremely underdressed and unstylish.
Why? Well, for one thing, the average British guy is way more fashionable than I am, and it makes me uncomfortable. In the US, I normally don’t feel that I have to compete with guys for fashion points. Don’t get me wrong, the US has plenty of fashion conscious men. However, it often seems as if the average guy walking around campus pulled on the first t-shirt he found in his drawer that morning, plus his lucky basketball shorts. In the UK, guys seem to dress more intentionally.
Secondly, students dress up for class! I always looked forward to university as the time of life when it is generally acceptable to go to school in your pajamas. I was surprised to find that in the UK students look put-together, just for attending lectures! Even wearing shorts or activewear is uncommon (unless you are on an team). I’m trying to get used to it and I do genuinely appreciate the effort takes in looking nice before going out in public, but I have to admit I miss the dream of wearing my comfiest of comfy clothes in public.
So there you have it, a few of the things that surprised me when I arrived in the UK. Of course, those points have led to more than a few embarrassing moments. However, I like to dream that by the time I graduate I’ll be an elegantly dressed, softly speaking, pen wielding student with grace and class. Here’s to hoping!
So you’ve decided that studying abroad is for you? Now is the time to spread your wings and enjoy a new part of this beautiful earth. Assuming that you have finished applying to school and have already applied for your student visa, it is now time to think about getting out the door! Here, for your convenience, is a master list of the things you’ll need to think through before stepping onto the plane:
Most universities will ensure student housing for their international students. Staying in student accommodation will keep you close to campus and in the social circles of other freshers. However, if you really want to break into the culture of the local area and prefer a family environment, why not look into finding a host family?
I live with a host family who I met through friends and I couldn’t be happier. Being able to get away from the hubub and culture shock of school at the end of the day has made being abroad more manageable. And it is indescribably helpful to be in a family environment when I am homesick.
International phone plans are a joke. Most are super over-priced without giving you much of anything. Make sure that your phone is unlocked before you leave. Then, once you arrive, you can easily buy a sim card with a pay-as-you-go plan, insert it into your phone and walla! You are all set with a local number.
A lot of people in Europe use WhatsApp for communication, so you will want to download that before you go. Also, make sure your friends and family at home are set up to talk to you. Decide on a conversation plan (even a schedule) with each of your closest friends. My best friend and I like to use email. My sisters prefer SnapChat and group texts on iMessage. My parents love Facetime. Just make sure you have a way to reach all the people you need the most.
Expert tip: before you leave, teach your parents and or grandparents how to use Facetime, Skype, or another video chat app. You’ll be glad you did!
Make time to sit down with your parents or a trusted adult advisor to work through a financial plan and budget. Be conservative in your estimates and leave room for unexpected expenses. You don’t want to suddenly run out of money on the wrong side of the ocean.
Here are things to think about when budgeting:
Transportation to and from class as well as around the city
Travel on weekends or breaks
Entertainment and sightseeing
Emergencies, such as medical care
You can set up a bank account once you get there, but you will probably want a little bit of currency and/or a travel credit card (with no foreign transaction fees) before you get on the plane, just for peace of mind.
Make sure that you notify your credit card company that you are traveling. You really should use a local card to avoid transaction fees, but if you have to use your home card in a pinch, you don’t want the company shutting down your account.
Expert tip: find out if any local bank is connected to a bank in your destination. Do some research about the best plans for international students. That way you can get the process to having a local bank account going as soon as you get there with little hassle. It’ll be one less thing to worry about during the first few overwhelming weeks adjusting to your new home.
Of course, the no-brainer is to make sure and bring all your necessary travel documents. If I were you, I’d also bring photocopies of the following items:
Letter from university endorsing your visa
immunisation and other relevant medical records
Don’t forget to check your destinations power outlet. Most countries don’t use the same one as the US, so you’ll need a power adaptor.
Pack light. The main point here is to take less than you think you will need. Getting stuff across the ocean and back is a huge hassle. Plus, you may be buying souvenirs while you are there, so save some room! If you feel your wardrobe is incomplete or you forgot your favourite hair spray, there will most likely be loads of affordable shops within walking distance. And I’m not gonna lie, shopping (even budget shopping) in a new country is super fun!
Expert tip: Americans tend to dress more casually than the rest of the world, particularly at university. Do research on local customs but remember that very likely it would be considered inappropriate and even rude to wear sweats and t-shirts to class. In Wales girls dress in tights and nice dresses, sometimes even heels, just for lectures! So don’t bring more floppy t-shirts and yoga pants than you need to lounge around your room in.
Things to leave home:
Blow dryers/flat irons (due to the voltage difference you are likely to blow a fuse and/or ruin your equipment)
Books (I love love love my books, but they are very heavy and the number one thing that needs to go when your suitcase is overweight. Instead, take a nice walk and find your closest local library as soon as you arrive at your destination! It will be a fun and relaxing morning activity)
Shampoo/Soap and other daily necessities (Pack a travel sized amounts in your carry-on, for in case you lose your luggage. For the most part, you can buy that stuff when you get there!).
The specific items you’ll need to bring should be catered to where you are going to live. Remember to take the weather into account. If you are from Florida moving to Europe, don’t bother bringing your bikini collection, instead find some sweaters at the thrift store. If possible, find a local friend through a Facebook or the international office that you can discuss essentials with.
My tippity top things to bring for the United Kingdom:
Invest in high-quality and cute rain gear. Since you will likely be dealing with rain for a good part of the year, you’ll want to look nice and feel confident in your rain gear. Rain coats are preferable to umbrellas because it is so windy that umbrellas break easily. Plus, a raincoat can be easily stuffed into your bag at any time, whereas umbrellas start to feel really heavy after you’ve been walking for a while.
Here is the jacket I use love (and use almost every day). You can click on the image to buy it on Amazon:
Waterproof spray your shoes and throw away all those blister-inviting flats. Since you are likely going to be walking a lot more than you did in America, comfortable walking boots are a must. Make sure all your shoes are comfortable! I finally threw away my one pair of uncomfortable flats. Having them around was too tempting. I kept wearing them and paying for it with a week of sore blistered feet.
A Security Blanket. Be it a small book of photos or the teddy bear your best friend gave you, you might need something to hold onto when you are homesick. Even the littlest thing can mean a lot when you are a thousand miles away from your loved ones.
What to Expect
Take time to thoroughly research the country you will be studying in. It helps a lot to have realistic expectations about the good, the bad, and the ugly of your new home. Make sure you understand the weather patterns, local etiquette, and basic history.
I read books about Welsh history and culture and watched movies set in Wales before I left. It made everything so much more exciting for me when I actually got there! I also enjoyed watching British bloggers and vloggers in action before I left. In fact, I think I learned a lot about local culture, expectations, and even recommended restaurant and grocery store chains through YouTube!
If you are studying in the UK, check out my definitive guide to the differences between college in the US and the USA.
Conquering Fear and Goodbyes
This is the part where I put my right hand on my heart and declare: ‘I am so sorry that I hat saying goodbye and I am super bad at it and still learning’.
Saying goodbye is one of the things I hate most in the whole wide world. In fact, if I have the chance, I will try to sneak away before anyone knows I am leaving just to avoid the teary final send-off.
Still, there are some things I’ve learned along the way.
Make sure you and your loved ones are okay with each other. You definitely don’t want to be worrying about whether or not your lil brother is made at you for six months because you accidentally punched him the night before you left. It sounds silly, but take the time to ensure that you are leaving your loved ones on a good note.
Create lil cards and gifts for your younger siblings/best friends to find after you’ve left. This isn’t necessary, but it is super duper fun. Once, when I was gone traveling for my little brother’s favourite holiday (Pi day, on March 14th), I baked a pie and left in the back of the freezer. On Pi day my family face timed me and we ate it together. It was a really special experience.
And there you have it! Once you’ve thought things through and checked your list twice, try not to second-guess yourself or worry too much. Life is so often defined by the unexpected struggles and triumphs that we never could have planned for. Don’t forget that you are sure to find wonderful and helpful human beings no matter where you go and, even if your family and friends are far away, in this day and age they are never too far to reach out to. So don’t be scared, get excited, and go go go!
Life abroad can feel like a whirlwind of new adventures. That is wonderful! However, all the exciting, difficult, and downright annoying new experiences can become overwhelming, even exhausting, if you don’t spend adequate time to rest and reflect.
Last week I wrote about why I love journaling and will be using this blog to showcase my (hopeful) progress in growing as a journaler and overall more creative person this year. This week, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned about journaling over the past 10+ years (I started journaling regularly when I was 9! Woah!).
Three reasons why you really should be journaling:
Journaling is a simple way to cope with changing life and unknown futures.
Forces you to reflect on experiences and ultimately get more out of them. A
And lastly, it makes for the best possible souvenir you can give yourself when the journey is over: a record of not only the things you did but the feelings you felt and the lessons you learned in the midst of it all.
A Few More Benefits of Journaling:
Helps you to relax
Helps you keep track of your life
Helps you to remember sweet and funny details, stories, or emotions you would otherwise have forgotten
Helps you to cope with hard situations and turn them into lessons learned or stories to laugh at
Forces you to spend time reflecting and thus can help you to gain more out of your overall travel/study abroad experience
Helps you to keep track of your long-term and short-term goals and readjust your schedule to continue to work towards those goals
Last week, I was sifting through my first travel journal. Reading about my struggles and thoughts on my first trip outside of the USA was absolutely hilarious. Not only that, but some of my thoughts about wanting so desperately to go back to Europe, but thinking that it would be absolutely out-of-the-question impossible, helped me to put my current situation in perspective and make me ever so much more thankful and amazed by how my life has turned out.
Helpful tips to start your journaling journey:
Set a regular time
Journaling is fun and doesn’t take a lot of time, even so, if you don’t set a specific time it still won’t happen. For me, I like to set my journal time in the evening before I go to bed. It helps me wind down and enjoy whatever the day brought. The good times are savored. The bad times become lessons learned. The embarrassing times are turned into funny stories for my friends at home (and this blog).
Don’t be confined
Aside from setting a regular time, there should be no rules for your journal! Feel free to express yourself in whatever way makes sense for you. Don’t feel bad or get flustered if you miss something or your journal gets out of chronological order.
Try Different Types of Content
Sometimes I like to write long descriptive accounts of the goings on in my life. However, don’t feel confined by that more traditional style journal entry. Most of my entires are very different from that: experiments with cartoons and doodles, a to-do list of things I need/want to accomplish, or even just a list of five things you I am thankful for or five new experiences I wasn’t expecting. Looking back at my journals is more fun when I give it a broad range of content.
Use your journal for creative expression. Don’t be afraid to use colours, photos, stickers, stamps, even small souvenirs you collect along the way.
4. Avoid bare descriptions and/or statistics
If you feel the need to write the bare facts of what went down, do so in a condensed bullet point format on the side of an entry. Long entries about ‘we went to the Thai food restaurant at 10am and then spend 15 dollars on groceries at Tesco’… get boring really fast. Focus on funny stories and personal realizations. Record your surroundings and your inner feelings. That is the stuff you are going to want to remember later.
5. Use Dialog
Your friend made that really hilarious comment or you and a study budy had an interesting conversation… record it! There is no way you will remember the exact words otherwise. I’ve found that going back to read old conversations in my journal makes me laugh harder than just about anything else.
And there you have it! What I have learned about journaling over the years. Stay tuned for more updates (and photos) from my personal journey growing my artistic skills through attempts at improved journaling. Also, if you have any thoughts or suggestions, PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME in the comments below : )