Study at Nottingham University in England
Tips From a Study Abroad Graduate
Article and Photo by Elizabeth L. Hatt
Trent Building on the University of Nottingham, University Park Campus.
Past study abroad recipients answered my concerns the same way I tend to answer others: “You will love it and not want to return home.” What did I wish they had told me? That loving it wouldn’t come instantly; I wish I had known how lonely the first week would be.
I studied abroad in England. I chose this location for a) my inability to speak another language fluently enough to hold a conversation with a young child, and b) the British accent makes me giggle like a schoolgirl. Having grown up outside New York City, I wasn’t looking for the big cosmopolitan city experience and opted for the mid-sized city of Nottingham—known for its association with Sherwood Forest—where Robin Hood and his merry men stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Enriching, character-building and eye-opening to say the least, the most encouraging thing I can say to emphasize the impact of this experience is: Three years later I returned as a full-time student to complete my graduate degree.
Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Left
The overwhelming loneliness passes quickly. Although surrounded by groups of new friends and fellow exchange students, lonesomeness struck the minute I entered my dorm room, alone. The next morning I was ready to pack up and head back to the airport. I doubted myself. Yet, by the end of week one I stopped calling home twice a day, and recognized that I was not the only student in this predicament. Before the end of week two I began to "‘love it" and "not want to leave."
Get involved as soon as you arrive. Whatever your priority is—traveling, educational opportunities, meeting people or volunteering—get involved right away. It is easy to think you have loads of time, but it goes faster than you can imagine. Jump into your activities the first chance you get! When an opportunity to spend a weekend in Scotland or Prague arises, take it. If a new friend invites you to join their organization, sign up. When eating out, try something you have never eaten before. Live it up from the day you arrive because no matter how much time you spend abroad or how busy you are, there will always be more to experience.
Living day by day is part of the addiction. Growing up in America, I spent my childhood like most other kids, rushing from school, to dance class, to gymnastics, to softball practice, and back home to finish my homework at the dinner table before going to bed to do it all again. We are raised to be ambitious in making our days—now more than ever—overscheduled. Take time away from your regular busy schedule to invite new activities and interests into your life.
Don’t expect to be welcomed everywhere you travel. Traveling abroad brings endless rewards, but not always without disappointment. Living in America, we are swallowed by our own extensive culture. With such a huge economic impact on international affairs, enemies and opposing opinions are inevitable. It is a rude awakening to hear people on the street who don’t even know you insult you because of your nationality. It is frustrating to be denied a hotel room because you speak American English. Coincidentally, and unfortunately, my departure for Europe took place three days after President Bush declared war on Iraq in 2003. In many cities we were met without a welcome and even guided by police out of a city center during an anti-war protest. But no matter what we were faced with, I listened to my dad’s departure advice, “Wherever you go, remember you are a guest; respect their culture.”
No matter how frustrating these occurrences are, they are well-balanced by the warm welcomes of people who appreciate you for you who you are or where you are from. Not everyone will judge a traveler on his or her nation’s political decisions. Many will recognize you as an individual with an open mind who is attempting to absorb as much of their culture as possible.
Choosing a Location and Study Abroad Program
There were many reasons—in addition to the aforementioned—why I returned to Nottingham (pronounced: NOT-tin-um). Having gotten a taste of what was out there, I was keen to continue exploring. This passion was an important part of my education so studying internationally was a necessity. I choose to study Journalism, and knowing that I would be studying the media’s portrayal of world and American news, I wanted to view our nation from another point of view.
Just as I did, some participants will find this decision easy. Many have a lust to travel to a land far away that they learned about or previously visited; for others the decision is difficult. How do you decide? Ask yourself what you wish to gain from your time overseas. You might want to polish your language skills or learn a new one entirely. If you have the desire to make a difference or contribute to a cause, then investigate where you can incorporate volunteer opportunities. Or maybe you want to discover your heritage and learn about your ancestor’s culture. Having an understanding about why you are traveling will increase the likelihood that your experience at a chosen destination will be fulfilling.
No matter how much time you have to allocate overseas, it will never be enough. Just when you are starting to feel accustomed to your new way of life, to feel like you belong, it is time to leave. While university requirements may limit your time abroad, work and volunteer programs can be left open-ended, allowing you to alter your plans at a later time. Investigate a variety of types of work and study programs to make sure you get the most of your stay.
There are a lot of particulars to keep in mind. These vary drastically across nations, continents, and languages, so the key is to research, research, and research some more. When preparing, look for books and websites that provide information regarding customs, cultural taboos, or socially acceptable conduct. I learned that the peace sign in America—holding up two fingers—is a very offensive gesture in England. Familiarizing yourself with day-to-day life of the local citizens will make your transition much easier—and help prevent any offenses. This information floods the Internet and most travel guides will provide general advice on appropriate behavior, such as when to tip. A key source for information is your peers and colleagues. Ask around your university for contacts who may be willing to assist—almost all previous participants look forward to sharing their experience with potential students.
Settling in once you reach your destination can also be stressful. Many university study abroad programs will assist you in the basics, such as opening a bank account, finding accommodation, and finding part-time employment. If your program does not assist you with this, there are many organizations out there willing to help—seek them out!
How Studying Abroad Changed My Life
Becoming a Changed Person
Returning home can be a culture shock. The more diverse a destination and program you choose, the more adjustment it will take to return to your "old" life. This was by far the biggest influence my initial study abroad experience provided. Prior to leaving I ate like an American, lived like an American, and thought like an American. Europe was a place I learned about in history class, flying over water terrified me (some things don’t change), and home was defined as the safe haven of my family, friends and university dorm. Take all that knowledge and comfort away and it can feel lonely. Nevertheless, the experience forces you to open your mind and welcome the diversity of the world. Before you know it, you have created a new home thousands of miles away from your hometown.
During my first experience abroad—four months—I acquired a taste for Indian food, a new passion for outdoor activities, and increased self-discipline within an academic environment. It was fairly simple to accommodate these—among other subtle additions to my persona—into my daily life. Living abroad one and a half years while completing my Masters degree, my personality and lifestyle conformed to that of my peers such that I returned home a very different person. Everything from my eating habits to my political view was influenced; I developed an appreciation for British humor; my daily routine now included a lot of walking; I even spoke with a slight accent. It is hard to imagine how a short time away can have such significant impact, but my personality was transformed to combine my overseas experiences with my upbringing. There was a new me returning to New York. It is important to be patient with friends and family as everyone has to adjust to these changes. Yet the best part is that you can now introduce them to your new passions.
Travel Makes the Whole World Feel Local
Studying or working abroad is an excellent jumping off point; a place to lay your head in between city hopping. I followed convention and spent one month backpacking around Europe. Each city held a new secret, and although I am sure it was mentioned in history class, I learned about the wars, love, and secrets of the nation. It occurred to me that traveling abroad wasn’t about what I knew about my new location, but about what I could learn. Travel guides discuss loads of famous sites. Many of my companions were familiar with them, but global studies must have been during my nap time because it all was new to me.
Travelers encompass a subculture of humanity different from any vacationer or tourist. A traveler’s intention revolves around exploring and taking part in a society’s culture and customs, not just enjoying the landscape and shops. Tourists return home rejuvenated with tons of photos and a full stomach; travelers collect new friends and viewpoints and return exhausted with an altered way of life. Although equally valuable these are two very different experiences.
As a study abroad participant, you are inevitably a traveler. Your whole reason for going is to learn about, adapt to, and modify your perspective on life—even if, at the time, you were just looking for a new place to party. In this role of a traveler you are somewhere between living as a local and sightseeing as a tourist.
The longer you spend abroad the more "‘local" you become and the deeper you immerse yourself into the way of life. Adapting to British life sounds easy, and relatively speaking it is. Many of my adaptations weren’t necessarily for survival, but due to preference. Growing up in America—like most people living in the suburbs—I drove everywhere. The concept of walking to go grocery shopping may be normal in a city, but was unheard of for me. All of sudden I found myself in a place where everyone walks. My necessities and daily routine was forced to change to accommodate this. Now, back home on Long Island, I walk everywhere I can, even to the supermarket.
Where to Start
Any international trip is a big undertaking to plan. While it is comforting to outline your journey ahead of time, you will evolve as a traveler and your intentions will change throughout. With so few restrictions, take advantage of your freedom to travel on a whim. Travelers are always looking for others to bond with—talk to your counterparts and you can be assured that they will offer some excellent recommendations.
In planning your travel, research the specifics. There are a number of student associations that provide travel advice, planning assistance, and discounts. Among these are STA Travel (locations worldwide), Internationalstudent.com and StudentUniverse.com. Traveling internally both nationally and internationally can be cheap and convenient with budget airlines. Search for airlines based in the country you are flying from for the best deals.
Preparation for such a momentous journey can feel overwhelming. It isn’t just about packing, but mentally motivating yourself. Take it one step at a time and remember that there are many other students in a similar situation. Wherever it is you decide to go, make the most of it and it will be impossible to regret. Arrive with a smile and an open mind, and before you know it, you will "love it" and "never want to leave."
Study Abroad and Student Travel Organizations
Ideas to Commemorate Your Time Abroad
Collect a post card at each stop
This is an excellent way of remembering and celebrating all the fascinating places you visit; especially if you are backpacking and your luggage space is restricted.
When you return home your collection can make captivating wall décor or a fun coffee table book to share with friends.
Try something new at each stop
Try something you have never experienced before, whether it a sport, food or speaking the native language. It will create a significant memory of each location, and you may discover a new passion.
When you return home incorporate your new passion by starting a sports team or throw a dinner party and cook a new meal you discovered.
Keep a journal or blog of your time abroad
Write down everywhere you go and how it made you feel. Don’t overlook what may seem like insignificant details.
When you return home publishing your story or blog online to share with friends and family will help them feel included in your experience and inspire other travelers.
Be friendly and make new friends
Everywhere you go you will run into other travelers exploring on their own. Each has their own story and loads of advice and recommendations. Talking to people may inspire you to visit new places.
When you return home keep in touch with your fellow study abroad participants and other travelers. Sharing pictures and stories will help you with the transition involved in returning home.
Elizabeth L Hatt has traveled across England, worked at a marketing agency in London, studied at Nottingham, and backpacked extensively across Europe.