The Stages of Studying Abroad, illustrated by the “Weeping Girls” (Jupiter Art Land)

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The Sunny Storm

  1. When I first arrived in Edinburgh, I wanted to be in constant motion. The program orientation makes this desire a reality, the organized activity kept my energy level high helped me resist succumbing to jet lag. Within the first few days in my new home, it was crucial to make friends, surrounding yourself with a support system of like-minded Americans to explore the city with. And that is just what we did. Edinburgh is a wonderful city to walk in. The area around the university is crowded with pedestrians and although some choose to invest in a bike, I feel, so far, that it is not necessary and enjoy taking the most traditional form of travel. While Edinburgh boasts to be one of the most beautiful and unique cities, I could not fully appreciate its glory right away. There was so much to do in so little time, I often found myself walking with my head down, speeding ahead to my next destination or errand. Yet, it still is not enough to look ahead, in front of you.

To truly appreciate and learn about a culture, one must turn their senses to every direction, enjoying not only one’s own activity, but feeling strangers’ energy as well.

During the first week of arrival, you will probably feel that you must go out every night, make connections with people, and make the most of your time in Edinburgh. For the most part, it is important to have fun right away and check out lots of new places and people, but make sure you SLEEP. After orientation, settling into accommodation is very exciting and overwhelming; as it was the first time I was living by myself and with a kitchen. The first few days of moving in, I found myself running around on errands, while still trying to keep up with my new friends and experience every bit of the Edinburgh culture that I could. This would not have been possible however, if I had not taken one night in and slept for a solid 16 hours. Best decision of my life. So be in motion. But also rest.

While “I can sleep when I die” may sound nice in theory, you can’t enjoy your                      surroundings if you are living a waking death.

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The Cold Calm

  1. Settling into a new community when not a soul around you knows who you are can be tough. I enjoyed the new friends I made, but couldn’t help feeling like I left my life back at home, to fester and get further and further away. Luckily, this feeling did not last, although I do feel homesick from time to time and do miss my loved ones often. The new university system is also quite an adjustment. I am taking an Honours level English course called Modernism and Empire, a second year literature course called Scottish Lit 2 and an Ethnology course called The Supernatural World. My Honours lit course is by far the most challenging, but as long as I keep up with the reading I am confident I will stay afloat. The Visiting Student office at the university is very helpful when it comes to changing courses. I was originally in an Honours Philosophy course but after reading the first material, decided I was uninterested and made the switch to the enticing Supernatural World (I highly recommend it). At first, I was unsure about switching, as I felt very capable in my philosophical ability and wanted to be challenged, but I realized that I can always sit in a library and gain philosophical knowledge for hours, but after this year I most likely will not be able to explore and enjoy Scotland and Europe.

Studying abroad does not merely signify “studying” as in the classroom, although it is a large part of the reward. Studying the new culture and beautiful area around you is just as important, so be sure to make the time for it.

Figuring out which societies to join and how to do things like setting up a bank account, registering with the doctor, finding your way around, keeping to your budget, making more friends, making your own food, finding time to exercise, keeping ties to home, organizing travel, buying living stuff, decorating your room, bonding with flat mates, picking up your BRP card (full-year students), reading for class, tutorials outside of class, sleeping, and keeping a level of sanity is pretty tough at first. The best way to manage time and stress is to accomplish a little bit every day. Do one annoying task and take a break, give yourself the gift of social time and maybe even some Netflix.

Remembering that this is not a two-week vacation, where you pack everything in at once with exhaustion, but a life you are making for yourself, is key.

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The Dewy Dawn

  1. Arrival at a balanced state is highly underrated. The first few weeks of study abroad has challenged my emotions more than any other experienced. I have come to realize that feeling lonely or homesick is good, as long as it’s balanced by amazing times with friends. Different types of friends too. Friends you can just relax and work on schoolwork with, friends you can explore new restaurants and bars with, but most importantly, friends that you feel like you can be yourself, or this new and improved person you are becoming, around. It is easy to make friends with people who share similar interests but it may be more rewarding to befriend people you normally wouldn’t seek out, they can teach you things about the world and even yourself. Adjusting to the schoolwork and course style here was tough sure, but it isn’t all that different from being a freshman again and tutors are there to help you, they know you are a visiting student and may have some anxieties or questions. My honours Literature tutorial was extremely intimidating as many of the other students seemed to be more well read in the area we are focused on, coming from the same background. I have realized that worrying you don’t measure up is not going to get you anywhere. As long as I keep up with reading, I will probably benefit much more from being on the less knowledgeable side students than being the top dog.

Get out of your comfort zone. Go to Quidditch practice or that weird sounding club event with people you hardly know. Making you bubble bigger doesn’t necessarily mean it will pop.

Focus on the little things. Small moments of peace or feelings of accomplishment can mean so much for your overall happiness. Staying in on a weekend night and feeling like you didn’t miss out does not mean that you are boring. It means you are growing up and you control your life, and are not controlled by the events around you. Drinking a nice hard cider with a homemade meal that you yourself created is one of the greatest feelings. You aren’t pre-drinking (common phrase here), or rushing through eating something convenient, you are becoming a person. Finding your own homey study or reading spots is also good for the soul. My personal favorite is the Princes Street Gardens, bringing a picnic blanket and reading among children playing around and many others just enjoying a nice day.

You are going to miss your loved ones. You are going to feel heartache when your best friend back home celebrates her 21st birthday and cuts out a picture of your face to hold up in photos. Consequently, you will appreciate your people back home so much more and your relationship with them will probably help you appreciate new friends as well, everything in life is so connected.

As exciting as traveling around Europe sounds, my favorite moments have been when I was doing nothing extraordinary. Sitting atop Arthur’s Seat (a must do in Edinburgh) and enjoying the sunset, dancing like a fool to 50’s music with friends, or watching the locals play catch and converse at the park. If you spend all of your time jetting off from place to place, sure you will experience a glimpse of many cultures, but investing your time and energy in one, diverse culture will open up your eyes wide.

I still have a long way to go and that is the best part. You know that feeling when you’re reading a great story and want to get to the end but don’t want it to be over? It’s kind of like that. Except it is your story. And you will benefit from every single page.

To quote one of my friend’s favorite sayings, declared at any time, from moments of daunting amazement to impressions of disgust,

“This is why we studied abroad guys!!”

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