Last year, I did a 5 month-turned-8-month study abroad from Plymouth University, UK to Montana State University, Bozeman, USA. Quite the cultural change indeed. I thought it might be helpful for anyone considering a study abroad program for some tips as to why you should. I was completely terrified about going to America and not even sure about it. But now I am home and experienced one of the most amazing times of my life, I am a big advocate for studying abroad, so here’s some reasons why it’s a great option!
- It gives you a unique perspective on university, life and the world
Studying abroad is such a strange, crazy, unique experience for you to have. No matter where you go, you will have to deal with cultural differences, perhaps a language barriers, different college systems and grading as well as a unique way of life in the place you go whether you live in a university dorm or a shared house, host family or apartment. Experiencing such a different way of life to the one you grew up in will help you figure out what you want in life, how the world works (a bit better – that still takes a lot of figuring out) and what you love and enjoy.
2. You will make wonderful friends from all over the world
From international students, to housemates, to classmates, you will find a plethora of people who are lovely and who you may want to befriend. I really enjoyed getting to know americans and hanging out with them and their friends, and seeing what they do on the weekends as well as finding a lovely international cohort made up of brits, aussies, kiwis, norweigans and irish – it was fun to chat about cultural differences and what they were finding strange too. They were also keen to travel and explore the local area so it was always good to have people to go explore with. And now I have this amazing network all over the world of friends to visit and people to stay with! I’m so surprised at how many of the people I have seen since last year already!
3. Getting to try new activities
So many fun activities take place and in the attempt to make some friends, maybe you’ll try some? Where I lived in Montana was very outdoorsy so I was able to try skiing, hiking, kayaking, bouldering, paddleboarding and do lots of camping. I also was able to take a credit in Yoga that went towards part of my degree. It was pretty sweet. There was also an outdoor recreation program which ran trips on the weekends and in the evenings which was really awesome, especially because transport was all covered as was equipment and instruction (if needed).
4. Travel Opportunities
Living in America meant that the main forms of transport were flying or driving. But with gas/petrol being so cheap and cars easy to rent/buy and flights being affordable as long as you booked in advance meant that travel was easy to come by (and I lived in Montana – a state more remote than most). My boy and I bought a car together while we were out there and used it to car camp around the west part of the USA. I managed to visit 10 states while I was there (which doesn’t sound like many in the scheme of the 50 states but it was a lot of beautiful places!) and some friends of ours hired an RV with a big group of them to travel around, or there’s flights, or friends who have cars! So many opportunities!
5. Different Classes
One of the things I loved about the university I studied at was the opportunity to take so many different classes in my ‘major’ as well as a ‘fun’ one – I took yoga, but other options that friends chose were volleyball, horse-riding, pottery and bowling. It was also great how each different class had a different set of people (unlike at home – which is lovely in a different way – being in classes with the same group of people) which meant different perspectives and opinions and opportunities.
6. Taking responsibility for yourself
When you are abroad, you are completely on your own, you can’t go back home for a quick weekend of home comforts or anything. Instead when you come across a problem, you just figure it out for yourself and you’ll also become great at managing those finances if you want to visit lots of places and eat and save and have a social life. I felt like I really got better at some life skills that I wasn’t great at. Also, I had a really fun job while I was there too which helped.
7. Because it is not as expensive as you think
In the UK, if you choose to go away for the whole year, you get reduced tuition fees. Less debt, more fun! For me, I had the normal fees as I just went for a semester, but saved money by living in a shared house as opposed to the dorms.
8. Appreciate home
It makes you miss all the little things about home that you don’t usually take much notice of. Things like the BBC, cadbury’s, train travel and being close enough to the family that you’ll pop home for the weekend!
9. Become a little more minimalist
When living abroad, you can only really have what you can take with you in a suitcase so it encourages you to just live with what you need and get rid of all the extra stuff you might usually have! Our room in Montana was tiny, so I had to downsize everything, and it definitely made me more focused to live with less.
10. Meet up with friends along the way!
My sister and I have good friends in Seattle and it was amazing to get to visit them twice while I lived in Montana! So much fun to be close by!
11. Make Contacts abroad
Through my semester abroad, one of my professors offered me a summer internship that allowed me to extend my visa for an extra three months! Yay for a summer in Montana!
12. Good for the CV/Resume/your soul
I’m not a fan of the old do-something-so-it-can-go-on-your-CV so it is always a bonus to put on there -but- you will also learn life skills and have wonderful experiences that may change you as a person – it will be good for your outlook, life experience and everything else that goes along with it!
13. Try all the new foods
Food is a great part of life. Try everything you can. Get addicted to the local donut shop, eat weird fruits and veg, try not to be put out at how much americans snack! Maybe your uni even has a dining hall with all you can eat everything and ice cream on tap! (Mine did!)
14. See Amazing Landscapes so different so where you came from
Sunsets in ‘big sky country’ where I lived were just amazingly incredibly beautiful (see above) – burnt orange, pink, yellow and sometimes purple skies and golden hour that lasted a few hours. The picture above was taken at Peets Hill where you got 60 degree mountain views. It was stunning.
15. You will have a crazy awesome time that you will look back on as one of the greatest times in your life
Just go do it if you have the opportunity! Studying abroad is so amazing – just go!