Looking back, I can laugh at my completely outlandish anticipations, but it’s important to have a bit of a reality check before you embark on such a big adventure. And while your expectations may not be as grandiose as mine (I’m still under the impression I am going to find my future husband while in Oxford…), keep in mind that although your expectations may be entirely off, what you experience while abroad will be infinitely better than what you dream up. With all that said, here are some of the areas where I’d like to set the record straight.
I hate to be the one to shatter this illusion, but the vast majority of people you will meet while abroad are fellow international students. While this isn’t a bad thing, I was definitely under the impression I would be meeting more British students while studying here. Fortunately, if you’d like to make more local friends, there are plenty of ways to do so: join a club/sports team, get to know your RA, talk to fellow classmates, hang out at coffee shops/pubs that students frequent, etc. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Being an international student, you already have something that makes you different—people will naturally want to get to know more about you and American culture. I promise you will regret not getting to know locals while abroad.
Newsflash: Europe is expensive. Currently, London is the most expensive city in the world and that’s without factoring in the exchange rate. Is it a bummer converting all your money into pounds? Absolutely, but what is worse is constantly converting every time you make a purchase. My advise in regards to this is to convert your money before you go abroad and don’t think about the dollar until you return home. This will make spending £150 on a flight seem much easier.
While it’s true you will travel a lot during your study abroad experience, be as realistic as possible when making plans. Remember that you are still here to study; don’t skip all your classes for the sake of traveling (most of my classes have strict attendance policies). With that said, it is pretty easy to have Fridays off in London, which is perfect for a weekend trip. Also, remember that traveling can be expensive. You want to be able to eat, don’t you? Finally, realize that there are so many things to do in your host city! In London, museums are free, and most are within walking distance or a quick ride on the tube. You are already living in a different country; don’t feel the need to leave it every weekend (I say as I plan a trip almost every weekend...).
While there are many cultural/social/academic differences between the United States and the United Kingdom, daily life is actually quite similar. You will get used to all the differences, you will develop your own schedule, and you will adjust just fine. The homesickness only lasts a day or so—I promise.
When studying abroad, your expectations will not meet your realities, but that’s alright! If you give it a chance, I’m sure you will find that your experience abroad is better than you imagined it.
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