I’m back in the States now (insert tears), and settling in at Berry. This entry will wrap up my posts about my semester abroad.
Studying abroad was the best experience I have had as a college student, hands down. It gave me greater confidence in myself as a student and a person. I returned with a greater appreciation and understanding of people, history, and landscapes. I gained a new home and a wider perspective. These firsthand experiences are something I could not have had without stepping out of Georgia and into that other world.
Some rather practical skills learned include:
In the course of traveling alone and with other international students, I learned to chill out and enjoy the journey. Departures from the planned path aren't frustrating—they're adventures!
While it's not always a smooth ride (ha ha), I can now navigate trains, buses and the occasional ferry if need be. I'd had some experience before I left, but I am definitely more capable at reading timetables and figuring out what I need now.
I have my "British legs," as I call them. When I first arrived I was quickly winded and couldn't keep up with my international and British friends. But while there, I hiked about 5 miles of Hadrian's wall in a day, and took a 6 hour hike along the cliffs of Wales, and can basically go a really long way without fatigue. This has been really important to me because I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and I've always been afraid of being weak because of it. It's a great feeling to be able to walk far and comfortably, and walking has become a really important part of my daily routine.
Writing super long papers on topics not yet in academia!
When I found out my entire grade would rest on two 5,000 word papers, I was nervous. When I found out I wasn't allowed to do any citation and it'd all be my own research/close reading, I was REALLY nervous. But the experience was fantastic. It taught me a lot more about myself as a writer, and gave me a huge boost in confidence at my own ability to produce good work without using citations as a crutch. I'm actually not looking forward to going back to citations!
But there were also goals I had that weren’t quite so measurable. I wanted to gain inspiration and experience for my life as a writer by immersing myself in the culture and history of the countries I would visit. And I did.
Though the culture in England is not drastically different from America, there were many quirks (especially among the Cornish, Welsh and Scottish people I got to meet) that broadened my perspective. But perhaps the biggest way I feel the experience helped me as a writer was just the chance to see wholly new landscapes and learn more about the history of a place that’s vastly longer and more complex than American history. For instance, walking in the Culloden Battlefield in Scotland impressed on me the futility of wars and the toll of oppression in the aftermath. Hiking along the cliffs of Wales taught me how wild and legendary a land can be, holding hundreds of stories and fables around every corner—so that the countryside itself becomes a character. Standing in the Sagrada de Familia in Barcelona opened my eyes to the way a building can be like a marble forest. All these experiences were invaluable to me as a writer.
I feel like I was already changing before I left, and this experience has just propelled me forward. I am more confident, more assured, more independent and more capable than I was when I left.
To a student preparing to study abroad, I’d say: Make it your home. Don’t try to be a tourist and stuff in as many experiences as you can—though that’s well and good. But the real experiences that will change your life are the people you meet, the history you learn and the places you take the time to know.