Why You Should Study Abroad (if you get the chance)

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):

UNCC Building

No Firearms UNCC Sign
Signs like this aren’t exactly a fool-proof method against mass shootings.

UNCC Campus Sculpture

UNCC Campus Bridge

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. You bring up a strong topic in regards to studying abroad – is it better to be with other international students or more locals? Different programs and schools determine which is more important when they set up study abroad and international student services.

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    1. I know my program kind of tried to keep the international students together, but I joined clubs on campus to ensure I me the local students.

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    2. ambigram0 says:

      My Canada program definitely tried to keep all the international students together because everyone was going through the same experience all at once. I can see what they were aiming for but I’d rather be thrust in at the deep end. Staying with locals is much more of a culture shock which some people find difficult, but, for me, the culture shock is what makes travelling so enjoyable!

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  2. Mary says:

    True that, studying abroad is awesome. But I have a question. I am an American studying abroad at Oxford and I am TRYING to do it right by meeting Brits, but it is proving to be astoundingly difficult. I have been here for nearly a month and I’ve only made like two actual British friends. That is to say, I KNOW plenty of British people, but only two of them seem to want to hang out. All of the other Americans have exactly the same problem, and we all agree that this is why the Americans wander about in packs, because the Brits have been such a tough group to break into. As a past study abroad student (and you’re British, right?), do you have any advice?

    Also love the blog, etc.

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    1. ambigram0 says:

      Yep, I’m British. From Cambridge actually (not the uni) so I have to say: boo, Oxford! But I always thought us Brits were fairly receptive to outsiders, especially Americans. Are you living with Americans or Brits? You could always try asking the Brit friends you have to invite some of their other friends over or try and organise a pub quiz evening (or an outright party, if that’s your thing). It’ll depend how outgoing your friends are though, I guess.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I couldn’t agree more to this post. I too went on an exchange semester in Alberta, Canada while I was still in Uni (must be 5-6 years ago), made loads of friends and truly broadened my horizon. A year into my working life, an opportunity came upon, and I didn’t think twice about getting an overseas job posting to London, where I have been based for the last 3 years.

    I must have been to more than 25 countries for the past 6 or 7 years, and now I consider travelling alone to far-fetched places one of my greatest pleasure in life. This is all unthinkable had I not took the step when I was in university. And that was even though I had to rack up quite a substantial bank loan in order to get there!

    Travelling as a tourist is good and fine, but I think the real joy is in living in a new place as a temporary ‘local’, and what better time to do that than as a student!

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  4. Nate Shenk says:

    Studying abroad was amazing and I’m so glad that I talked myself into it. I obviously couldn’t agree more with your post. I’m American and I studied abroad in Germany and for the first few weeks it was really hard, but then it go better…then a lot better and then I didn’t want to leave. I completely agree that you really can’t put a price on the experience of studying abroad; it’s invaluable. Great post!

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  5. JulieCao says:

    You totally nailed it!! As an overseas student studying in the USA for four years I believe study aboard is one of the best way to broaden our horizons and allow us to get to know the culture of the host country better.

    Interestingly, I am going to pursuit my second Master’s degree at the U of Windsor this Fall. It is very exciting to meet alumni here. Could you please tell me more about it when you have time? Feel free to give me a shout at yiren1113@hotmail.com

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    1. awjo1991 says:

      Wow . . . 4 years. I’m actually pretty jealous right now.

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  6. awjo1991 says:

    Studying abroad is definitely the way to go. I studied in Scotland, and it was just amazing. It was out of my comfort zone at first, but in the end, it was the best experience I’ve had. I keep telling people exactly what you’re saying, and I just don’t understand when they don’t even look into it.

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