Like most freshmen I arranged to meet with the study abroad office within a month of starting my first semester. (What? That’s not typical?) For about a year between freshman summer and sophomore spring, I experienced a drop in my confidence. What if studying abroad was too hard? What if I got too homesick? What if I was alone and stranded and they didn’t have pizza or air conditioning in England? These things plagued my mind.
That’s where Berry’s study abroad office came in to save the day. Here are some ways they helped prepare me to go and thrive in my semester abroad.
During your first semester at Berry, you have to take an introductory college class. During one of the class meetings, the study abroad coordinator and/or a student who studied abroad will come and talk to you about how awesome it is, how to get scholarships, etc. They also do this in most language courses. So be prepared: Right from the start your wanderlust is going to be tickled.
Easy Meetings/Available Information
It’s quite easy to arrange a meeting with the study abroad office. You do have to fill out a little paperwork (why you are interested, where you want to go, etc.), but I felt like this just focused my curiosity. The office will try to match you to schools that are both in countries you want to visit and that specialize in your major (unless you just want to go for general education courses). When I mentioned my interest in creative writing, I suddenly had a brochure about travel writing classes in Italy. When I mentioned a love for England, I had guides and student reports about two fantastic universities. As I began to focus in on the school I wanted, I always had the study abroad office ready to answer any questions that came up (or ready to direct me to the correct place on the schools’ websites).
Meeting with Other Students
When I had selected my school (University of Reading), I was paired with another student who had been there the spring before. We got lunch together, and I plied her with all my questions. She gave me essential information, such as: What do I need to buy when I arrive? Where can I get a phone/bedding/groceries? How does the meal plan work? She also shared several stories, both preparing me for cultural differences and encouraging me. She even had a fantastic church recommendation, which was very important to me and a huge blessing. The ability to meet with a student who had studied at this school took a load off my mind and helped me feel very prepared when the craziness set in.
There are a few meetings you are required to attend before studying abroad. Most of these had basic travel safety tips and cultural games. But even though I had traveled abroad before, I still learned important information at these meetings. And it was cool to hang out with other Berry students who were (literally) going to the four corners of the world.
During the training it was recommended that we consider seeing a counselor before leaving. Berry has a service with our on-campus health center where students can see a counselor for free. I know students who have used this service before and really benefitted from it. I had been attending counseling for a few months before I studied abroad (with an off-campus counselor who I’d been referred to), and I found it extremely helpful. My counselor had some great advice for warding off homesickness, keeping down stress levels, and enjoying myself. I’ve used her recommendations during my stay in England, and I can tell you they’ve helped me enormously.
You don’t realize how important fast communication is until you have five forms to turn in and you haven’t heard from your abroad university for over two weeks and you’re completely freaking out. Normally, Berry’s international office will get back to you within twenty four hours, or two days at the most, and always with a detailed answer. Their thoroughness is like a refreshing breeze as you’re trying to juggle all the preparations for leaving.
With these things combined, to get: Awesomeness!
(My Danish friend, Anna, hiking along the cliffs in Wales)
There you have it: How Berry prepared me for this amazing experience. And it has been amazing. In fact, if the study abroad office hadn’t told me that my student visa will only be good for six months, I might consider staying here forever! Maybe I’ll just have to get married…
Just kidding. I’m excited to get back to Berry in a few months. Mostly because we have a Chick-fil-A on campus. (Okay, okay, and other reasons, too!)