Study Abroad: England

Sometimes, you hear an idea and just seize on it. Yes, you think, exactly! That's what I've been looking for, the cure for my apathy. For me, one such idea was to go on Study Abroad.

I happened to wander through the Study Abroad Fair February 2011, and I knew that was something I wanted to do. I didn't know where I wanted to go, or what I could take, or how this would work—but suddenly I knew I needed to find out. Three months, and many adventures before I even left, I was bound for a semester abroad at Kingston University, in the suburbs of London, in the United Kingdom.

I've met many incoming students who will tell me they plan on going on study abroad, or at least that they like the idea. There are some hurdles to vault before a student can get to that point. However, I found the UAF Study Abroad Office, and my Study Abroad coordinator (provided by the firm I went through to set up my Study Abroad, Eurolearn) to be extremely supportive throughout the process. There were several meetings discussing the process to apply, how to get a visa, what to pack, and how to set up financial aid. It is more expensive to do a semester abroad- but the expense is worth it, at least for me. It is also worthy of note that you are still counted as a UAF student for the purposes of financial aid while on study abroad- so you will probably not lose scholarships or loans. Before you can even get to this point, though, you need determination and motivation- that drive to see the process through. It's on this early step that I've seen a lot of other students stumble.

Another early step is to choose a location. It's helpful to know which classes you would like to be able to substitute for in the UAF curriculum. Your Academic Advisor (the person who helps you choose classes) can be a good resource for setting up some options. Focusing on this early will ensure you get credit for all the classes you take once you get back. Once you know what you need to take classes in, you can narrow down your choices. The Study Abroad Office has literature from a variety of programs. I can't tell you which one is right for you. I can, however, tell you there are plenty of options, even if you don't take a second language.

If you are gifted enough to speak another language, be aware that you may not be ready to take upper division classes in a foreign language, even if you're conversationally fluent. If you've ever switched schools growing up, you'll be aware that there are always places where you have to catch up to equal or exceed the other students in the class. I also found myself very surprised how very different the educational system can be between countries, too. On my semester abroad, I was graded in all but one class on a *single* paper, project, or test- quite a transition from classes in the States, where we are used to feedback throughout the course on whatever project we’re working on. There are bound to be differences, and adding a foreign language to the mix can be an added stressor. It's something to keep in mind. Many students who do go to a foreign language university choose to take classes about that language, rather than another subject. I've had friends who did that in Tunisia and Jordan, and it's definitely an option for an interesting study abroad experience. I decided to choose Kingston University in England, for its academic excellence, reasonable price, and location as a gateway to the rest of Europe.

One of the things I most enjoyed at Kingston was the opportunity to widen my academic horizons. I've always been interested in Recycled Concrete Aggregate, and studying at Kingston, I took two classes and two lab sections under a premier expert in the field, who literally wrote books on the topic. Some guest lecturers included a notable architect from Spain, and a Greek engineer who headed the committee that wrote the modern Eurocode standard for Earthquakes. I also liked stepping outside of my comfort zone, and took two classes in subjects not offered at UAF: British History and Architecture.

Studying wasn't the be-all end-all of my trip though! One of the best parts of Study Abroad is the people, places, and events you get to experience. I went to Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford, York, Cardiff, Paris, Lyon, Lourdes, M√ľnchen (for Oktoberfest no less!), and spent my Christmas break riding the rails around Europe. I also explored nearby monuments, historic sites, clubs, parks, and activities near my campus. Every weekend was a cornucopia of possibilities. I experienced holidays, like Guy Fawkes Day, or Burns Day, that aren't celebrated in the States. I even threw a Thanksgiving potluck (more than fifty people showed up- I guess the allure of food is universal) to share a bit of my culture as well.

I did, to my surprise, experience some degree of culture shock there. Living and studying conditions were different, and I was far away from my normal support network. Little things I was used to- donuts, candy canes, whipped cream, and Shake-n-bake, to name a few foods- were hard to find. Nonetheless, I made a lot of friends, and I think the experience has strengthened me. I definitely got more flexible about the things I'd do to relax, though I never stopped missing my comfort food. Some things put me out of my depth, like when my initial train to Lourdes was cancelled, and I found myself stranded in Paris for an additional evening without a place to stay, and no internet to set things up in a way I'm comfortable with.

I hope I didn't scare you away with my article. I have such a wide variety of awesome memories of my experiences- I'd like to see more students take the same opportunity. We're lucky here at UAF to have such a great support system for Study Abroad, and it should be taken advantage of.

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