Imagine this – you wake up one morning, you’re lying in a strange bed, in a strange room, in a strange country, all alone. Scary right?
Wrong, it’s the exact opposite!
…And I’m here to tell you why.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I hate ordinary. I hate getting up every day, doing the same thing, going to the same places and having the same experiences. So that’s why last year I swapped my standard, routine and completely average student life in Belfast for an unforgettable year studying abroad in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Where do I even begin? *gulps to hold back tears*
The BEST thing about my year away was the people that I met. If any of you are reading this you’ll know exactly who you are!
Before I left I never imagined myself being in the situations I was in and getting the opportunity to meet the most amazing people. Arriving in the U.S. I was the ‘foreigner’, a strange thought but true. I thought I would be the weird one, the one who stood out – but I was wrong.
There are people from all over the world at college in America. Some of my best friends came from completely different continents, and learning about them and their culture made daily life so much more interesting.
My year away was a whirlwind to say the least. I got to experience some AMAZING American events, I felt like a fully-fledged citizen after a while!
I was there for the most controversial U.S Presidential Election (that was something else – to say the least!) American Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, Christmas in NYC and Spring Break in Canada. I mean come on, who wouldn’t cut off their left arm for that?
Having said that, we definitely celebrated some things the Irish way. A blurry pub crawl hitting every Irish bar in Philly was a 21st birthday not to be forgotten and running through the streets in Boston on St. Patricks day with face paint and flags makes me cringe, smile and cry all at the same time!
It was only then I realised, adventure is the best way to learn. Why not do everything while we’re young?
Don’t get me wrong, there are days where reality hits, and it hits HARD.
When the rain and snow is beating off the library window and you’re up to your eyes in deadlines and textbooks. You suddenly realise you’re 3000 miles away and you can’t just pop home for a cup of tea, wheaten bread or an infamous Sunday roast.
But that’s O.K.
Having had a couple of those days myself I can safely say for every bad day there are 30 great ones. Do not let yourself be put down, have a break, take a walk and go again.
As I write this, my heart is broken. My year is over and I have had to leave my ‘home’ and best friends to come back to my home and best friends. Not many people can say that.
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones, the chance to live and study in America doesn’t come around very often.
It was only when I returned home that I realised how life-changing the year was. I had seen America’s true colours, my eyes had been opened and I had changed indefinitely.
Before I finish, I’d like to leave a few tips for anyone considering studying or doing placement/ post-grad work abroad.
My ‘wish I knew before going away’ Tips
- You don’t need that extra suitcase
- You won’t drink a good cup of tea all year
- Hope for the best but plan for the worst
- Study/Work abroad is an emotional cocktail (not a rollercoaster)
- Learn how to read a map and navigate without your iPhone.
- Forget yourself in a new country and make memories, leave the FOMO at home.
- Join a club, whether it’s a sports team or cheerleading or chess. You’ll meet so many people and it’s a great way to get involved!
- Sleep is for the weak, say yes to EVERY adventure (even if it is going for Dunkin at 4am).
- Reverse culture shock is worse than initial culture shock, prepare yourself.
What have you got to lose?
‘It’s better to look back on life and say “I can’t believe I did that…” than to look back and say “I wish I did that…”’
Lauren Kearns is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University, Jordanstown. You can reach her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ lauren-kearns-90819710b