To anyone considering a degree abroad, here's a bit of my story...
After a year of being done with my Bachelor's and Master’s degrees, spending time out of academia and freelancing a little bit, I figured I was done with schooling, at least for a while. After four years of living abroad in North Wales and attending Bangor University, it was time to hang my hat on all things college life, and try and figure out my career in the wider world.
If you’re thinking of going abroad for your degree, check out my blog about why I chose the UK rather than the US for my undergrad and why I chose North Wales for my education.
For some, the end of an education is a joyous thing, and the prospect of moving on to a career and focusing on other aspects of life is a welcomed change to all nighters, essay deadlines and cramped rooms with troublesome roommates. For me however, it was like a bad breakup to a relationship I wasn’t ready to let go of yet.
In my year at home, I had a lot of time to reflect on my years in North Wales; all the things I enjoyed being apart of, and all the things I wish I had done. One of the most significant things I had realized, is how much of an adjustment it was to move back to my hometown, because North Wales had become a home of sorts for the greater part of my early twenties. Doing a degree abroad is quite different than just a semester or a summer abroad. It becomes your way of life, and your local community.
Choosing to go to a university in another country has had its pluses and minuses, and like any university, getting an education abroad depends on what you want out of the experience, and what you put into it. However, there is an added element that staying in your country for your education doesn’t have: living in a different culture.
A degree abroad gave me a unique extended experience to really feel like I had a new “home,” and not just a new place I was studying abroad in for a few months. I didn’t always do a great job at being involved locally as an undergrad, and if there is any advice I would give someone who wants to do a degree abroad, it is to get stuck in to your local community!
Here’s my six best tips for making the most out of your degree abroad…
Live in local housing, at least for a semester.
A lot of times you get to live with a local family and experience customs, foods or events that you wouldn’t normally in student accommodation. For the most part, living in a local home means that you have family to check on you, help you get acquainted with essential places like the doctors office, local hairdressers or churches to join. Sometimes its good to live with people who are not directly your same age group, and often you become an extended family member for life!
I cannot stress this second one enough. Wherever you’re studying, I think giving back to the local community is important. Whether its donating to a charity shop, volunteering hours at a museum or spending time with the elderly, I promise you’ll never regret taking the time to give your time to some great causes in your area. Many universities will have volunteer clubs for helping clean up beaches, or leading cub scout groups, the possibilities are endless in getting involved, but it always makes a difference!
Take Language Lessons/learn the local lingo
Some places you won’t have to learn the language because you already know it! However, if you are like me and living somewhere like North Wales, its great to make an effort to learn the language, or to simply learn a few words like ‘Thank you,’ ‘excuse me,’ and “I’m a beginner Welsh speaker.’
More than likely, wherever you are going for your degree abroad you’ll probably be able to speak the language. However, sometimes there are local phrases, dialects or even second languages, like in my case, where though I can survive completely fine on English, it helps to at least know some basic Welsh to show I am trying to be a part of the community.
Attend events outside university
Sometimes its so easy to get stuck in campus living and society and sports clubs no matter where you are doing your degree. And while those things are awesome to do, attending events outside of your university but inside your local town or city is great to do too, on occasion.
Alternatively, many people who study abroad use their free time to country hop around Europe or go to major touristy places on the weekend, which is definitely good (hey, I get taking advantage of sightseeing in Europe where the flights are cheap!) but don’t completely neglect the city that you’re living in to do that. There is a reason you choose the area to get your degree, take the time to explore that too!
Attend local theater, comedy clubs, festivals, mic nights, or even get involved in a local sports team for a season. You’ll be surprised how much this helps your culture shock and how important it is to feel like this is truly your new home.
Learn about where you live and engage
In a similar vein to attending events outside of your university, I found it super useful to learn a bit about the local community by learning about the local history, tourist sites and animal wildlife. I volunteered for a year at a National Trust house, and did an internship with a local travel company, and boy, did I learn a ton about my community by doing that! By actively seeking out places about the local history and culture, I built a platform by which I could engage with locals, and share a bit of info about where I lived to people back home.
If you do end up wanting to stay in the country your studying in after you graduate, having a good idea about the background of the local community/country could help you land jobs in the future with the knowledge and experience you’ve acquired.
Plan your time diligently
This one seems obvious, but I promise you, your time doing your degree abroad will go by SO FAST. It’s so easy to put off work or be lazy like in any college, but the difference is that you’re probably only in your new country for a set amount of time before the visa runs out and its time to go back home and adult and cry and have a quarter-life crisis and so on and so forth…I’m kidding, I’m totally kidding…but somewhat not.
Plan your time wisely and stay on top of your work so you can take spontaneous trips to Amsterdam, or join a local band or just to have extra time with your friends. This is your time to get the most out of your degree abroad as you may not get this unique experience again. Grab life by the horns and live it to the fullest!
Now having the privilege to return back to academia and my beloved North Wales, I plan on making every effort to really integrate myself into the local culture, and contribute a bit more of my time to being an active part of the community. And I hope that if you’re considering a degree abroad, that you’ll try to see yourself as more than just a study abroad student, but a part of a new community of which there is so much to love and learn about!
I'm not really that into telling you cute little anecdotes about drinking far too much coffee and loving fall. So I'm Kayla, and I wrote this blog.
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