Daphne Xulu, third year Creative Writing and Film and Screen Studies student, is working as a Go Global Ambassador for Bath Spa and shares her tips for studying abroad
I’ve recently re-joined Bath Spa for my final year, after spending six months studying English Literature and Video Production at SUNY Geneseo in New York. My Semester Abroad was invaluable - I laughed, I learned, I cried, I explored, I made life-long friends, and I would do it all over again! If you’re reading this blog, you might be either preparing for your own journey overseas, or you’re weighing up the option. I’d like to share my tips for an easier transition, and how to make the most of your experience.
You’ll either be hot on research, wanting to gather as much information about your new university and country as possible, or - if you’re anything like me - you might think that research seems like the “boring” bit. Either way, knowing what courses your host university offers, and their modules will mean you’ll feel prepared when walking into a foreign classroom. Do they have any clubs, sports, or societies? What about their facilities? Getting to know your host uni better will mean you’re one step ahead before even touching down at the airport.
Research also extends into the country. Being informed about the transport, the closest cities or towns, and the weather allows you to know what to pack, what to expect and whether you need to allow room in your budget for bus passes or railcards.
It can seem daunting packing for an entire semester, especially when the seasons are likely to change while you’re away. If you’re an over-packer like me, you might be tempted to throw everything in your closet into a bag and call it a day, however, the airport is likely to charge you for a heavy bag, and saving pennies is important when heading off for a semester abroad. I found it useful to choose a few favourite outfits fitting for the season, along with the essentials - lots of underwear and socks!
When I arrived in New York, the temperature was in the minuses, and it snowed for the first three months. Once spring came around, I bought new clothes for the changing weather. This is also a chance to try the different fashion trends and styles of your new country. You can do this for cheap at thrift stores and second-hand shops. It’ll save you money in the long run, as when you fly out, you won’t have to pay extra baggage fees for clothes you won’t be wearing for the first half of your experience. It’s also important to read and re-read your packing list.
Getting to grips with a new educational system can be quite difficult. Your host university might do things differently from Bath Spa. For instance, at SUNY Geneseo, we were assigned homework every week, which was new for me. Some countries might focus heavily on exams, others prioritising coursework. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious about the workload, or the educational differences, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your new professors will be understanding and might be able to arrange meetings or tutorials to help. Bath Spa is also always there if you need some support or guidance.
Friends will be vital to your experience! Make sure to attend your orientation as it’s a good way to get to know others. If your host university offers fresher activities or socials, this can also be a great way to get yourself out there. People will be interested in you as you’ve come from somewhere foreign – so you can use this as a talking point. Making friends with native students is as important as forming friendships with other exchange students. Just like at Bath Spa, housemates and classmates often become great friends.
Document your experience
Make sure you have memories to look back on. Journaling, photography, blogging or vlogging are great creative ways to document your semester abroad. As the months pass your new country will start feeling more familiar, so you might not think it important to write down your daily life or to take photos of the campus or city. However, once you’re back in the UK these mementos will be invaluable. You’ll get to look back on all the things you did, and share them with friends and family, as well as other students thinking about going abroad. I wrote an extensive travel journal, which now acts as a time portal, so whenever I want to be transported back to my semester abroad, I only have to read a few pages.
Keep in touch
Whilst you’re in a new country, surrounded by new friends and exciting adventures, it can be all too easy to forget about life in the UK. Even though I encourage you to absorb yourself into your life abroad, it is important to keep in touch with friends and family at home. After all, it’s them that will welcome you home. To avoid feeling left out or out of the loop when you return home, make sure you let your friends and family know what you’re up to and ask how they are doing too. It’s the small things that matter, such as phone calls, FaceTimes, messages. Check in with all those important people when you can. They’ll be missing you!
Explore, explore, explore! If time and budget allow, try and see as much of the country as possible. Your friends might want to go on an adventure, or if you have a spring break, it’s amazing to use that time to travel. You’ll get a wider cultural insight and get to visit places you might have always wanted to go. On my semester abroad I was lucky enough to visit LA, New York City, Miami, and Key West – and these are some of my fondest memories. Travelling can push you out of your comfort zone, and make friendships even stronger, but stay safe, and go in a pair or a group if you can.
Travelling home might be more emotional than you anticipated – I cried so hard on the flight back that it alarmed a flight attendant! Oops! Make sure you have a great support system around you. If you suffer from reverse culture-shock or the grief of leaving friends, be kind to yourself. Look back at your memories and be proud of all that you achieved. Ease yourself back into social activities and remind yourself of all the things you love about the UK.
No matter where you’re heading to or what you’re studying, your semester abroad will be an unforgettable experience. You’ll learn about yourself and a new culture. You’ll gain strengths you never knew you had and make lifelong friendships. Go out there and make the most of it. You’re about to embark on the journey of a lifetime!
Interested in studying abroad?
If you’re a student in your first year and would like to study abroad during your second year, visit our International Opportunities page for more information.
Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.
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