Studying abroad is one of the best ways to travel. You’re not just visiting the place, you’re living there. You learn the price of milk and learn to spot a bargain in the thrift stores and can join in the complaints about the price of “gas” even when you know back home it’s three times as expensive and it’s called “petrol”. Every new person you meet treats you as the foreigner but you know about the coupons to save a quarter on buck twenty five pizzas. Your average tourist ain’t gonna know that shit.
What I’m trying to say, poor confused person, is that studying abroad is invaluable. If you get the opportunity, do it. Don’t worry about leaving your friends behind – you’ll meet people who are way more awesome and interesting than you ever would back home. Don’t worry about being homesick – there’s always something to occupy your mind and, you know, there’s Skype. Don’t worry about not fitting in – being the “exchange student” gets you so much attention and people will invite you to everything if you make a little bit of effort.
But you can study abroad right and you can study abroad wrong. My first semester abroad I spent at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I lived with other international and exchange students, got invited to the international and exchange student events, and barely met any Canadians. Thankfully I did make a Canadian friend, belatedly, and she’ll be one of my fondest memories, but mostly, Canada was studying abroad done wrong.
After New Year I went to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in, err, Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s America for those who live under rocks. Only this time I’d chosen to live with Americans rather than in the international student accommodation. This was studying abroad done right.
For example, I’ll never forget the time I asked my housemate to borrow his “saucepan.”
My housemate looked at me like I was having a stroke. “What? I missed that.”
“Can I borrow your sorsepun?”
“Dude, I literally have no idea what you just said.”
In the end I pointed it out in his cupboard. He then said, “Oh, a saaaauce-paan.”
And there were other activities that were quintessentially American that I got involved with, with Americans:
— Watching the Superbowl (I was a Packers fan that year (2011)).
— Weekly trips to Walmart with one of my housemates
— College basketball games
— Not to mention the stays with my housemates families and family friends in Asheville and a tiny redneck town in Tennessee.
That last one is the big one. Studying abroad, however you do it, gives you a chance to get out and explore different cities but if you don’t know people, you’ll probably stay in hostels with other backpackers. I stayed with real Americans and with local people I’d become good friends with.
In addition to all of that, the university you go on exchange to will invariably be better than your home one. Here are some photos of UNCC (my American university):