It feels like once Thanksgiving hit, time began to fast-forward, and a week from today I’ll be back in Iowa, surrounded by Christmas decorations, family, knitting, and my dog. Ask anyone here about me, they’ll tell you about how annoyingly often I bring my dog up in conversation.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s going to be so hard to leave here. The picture above is from my weekend trip to Scotland, and I can’t accurately describe how difficult it was for me to board the bus back to London. Edinburgh was perfect for me, and I needed an extra three months for that city alone to explore, much less the countryside; people to meet, pubs to explore, &etc. But as the holidays come closer and I read blogs or statuses talking about heading back home, I can tell you I really miss my family. Three months is a long time to be apart! I’m excited to hear my family laugh, hear my dad give the Christmas sermon at church (pastor’s kid, go figure), and all the traditions that come with the season.
This time next week I know I’ll be reflecting on my trip. Quite honestly, looking a week into the future I don’t know what I’ll be feeling, much less 10, 15, 40 years down the road. But there are four key points students considering study abroad should know:
There is not enough advice in the world to prepare you for your semester, but I would like to tell you that no two experiences are the same. There were sixteen Simpson students on this trip to London, and as far as I know I’m the only one who got a trip to the hospital (see earlier post). Hopefully you won’t do that, but just because person A spent two weeks in Paris and Rome sampling fine wine and posting to their award-winning blog, doesn’t mean person B will be going to the same places, with the same tours and experiences — your story is your own. Don’t feel guilty because you didn’t do the same things other students did; find your own goals and must-do lists.
The more you read up on your host culture beforehand, the better off you’ll be. Not because you’ll know what to expect. Rather, you’ll know what patterns or behaviors to look out for, and whether you find them accurate or not it will help you analyze and relate to the country in a different light. Once I got the hang of saying ‘cheers!’ in social situations, it put me in a different light in their eyes. Small attempts help conversation go a long way.
When you study abroad, there will be a point where you ‘click out’ with reality. Study abroad isn’t one big culture party — you still have responsibilities. And, you will still occasionally lose touch. Everyone I know on this trip has hit that point before; some hit it right away, when they couldn’t immediately handle the culture shock; for others it took time, maybe over grades, or scheduling, or money. For me it was right in the middle of the semester, when I hit myself with a pretty unattractive midterm grade. Thankfully, my professor knew I could be doing better and worked with me, both to get my grade up and to get me in a better place to make the remaining time worthwhile. You are still a young adult. You have the capability to make mistakes — and then fix them.
Lastly, you still need flip-flops for the showers. Don’t say you’ll buy them in your host country. Just pack them. Save yourself from the first-week stress of finding cheap shower shoes.
Cheers to Christmas break, and cheers to returning to family (and Simpson)!