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Why studying abroad wasn't for me

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Studying abroad in a foreign country is, naturally, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers an endless stream of benefits. Those willing to take the plunge will be rewarded with a greater sense of independence, huge amounts of self-confidence, and an enviable sense of cultural awareness. However, studying abroad also requires the right type of person. Here’s why studying abroad, as an exchange student at the University of New Hampshire, wasn’t quite for me...

University of New Hampshire WildcatBefore heading out to spend a year in the USA, my university offered several workshops where those students planning to study abroad had the opportunity to discuss worries and potential problems. Speakers were invited on to the campus, and they spoke at length about the reality of culture shock; a personal disorientation one may feel when experiencing a new way of life. Naturally, we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives – probably most prominently when we made the transition to university – but it’s a much more fierce sensation when moving abroad.

Being the guy that I am, I never thought for one minute that I’d be the person who experienced culture shock. We’ve been to the United States dozens of times, and I assumed these visits would put me in relatively good stead, ready to take on the life of an American student.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case - I was four-thousand miles away from home, and struck by culture shock; I felt ill each and every day.

Most people generally get over culture shock within a short period of time, but I found myself bombarded with more issues. My course was much more advanced than what my advisor and I were expecting; it was a class aimed at senior years – the people who had been studying that topic, in depth, for four years. I was impressed with how knowledgeable those individuals in my class were, and unfortunately my introductory course in the UK didn’t cover it in enough detail. This meant that I’d be sitting the very same exam as someone much more advanced than me – it didn’t add up.

I discussed changing courses with my academic advisor, but unfortunately the only solution would be to enrol on an “introductory” class (which would be similar to my first-year class in the UK). The other courses that appealed to me were only available in the second semester, so I’d essentially have to stick with my original course choices until then. I just couldn’t last the whole year, and returning home was the only option.

The whole structure of teaching is very different in a US university; in fact, it reminded me of sixth form. In the first class of term, students are issued a syllabus, containing mandatory readings, summaries, homeworks, quizzes, assignments, mid-terms, and final exams all listed side-by-side. This immense structure was a polar opposite to the independence we receive back in the UK – it was no longer my preferred style of study, and I much prefer to manage my own time.

Socially, it’s very different too. I was living with a bunch of freshmen who were rather concerned about how they’d be able to grab their next instalment of illegal alcohol. Social activities included ice-cream parties and painting a collage for the corridor walls. Before coming to the US, someone warned me that “college freshmen put partying first and study second”. I now know where the stereotype comes from. Whilst I’m fascinated by the college culture in the US, with quite a high dependence on fraternities and sororities, it didn’t suit my way of life.

As for living conditions, I was living in university halls, and sadly the corridors resembled some kind of prison block, complete with large black doors down each side, acting as the entrance to our cells. Don’t get me wrong, my room felt very homely after I’d unpacked my suitcase and done a spot of decorating, but the first impression was downright depressing. I also had a shared bathroom, which was used by around twenty freshman on my floor; it consisted of two toilets and two shower cubicles. There’s no ensuite in the US.

Interestingly, students in New Hampshire must take out a meal plan whereby they are entitled to unlimited food each day. Whilst this could be seen as pretty damn cool, it could also be seen as nannying. There’s a certain degree of independence required in order to cook a meal and fend for yourself – just like in the real world. Still, the food was top notch.

Half of my issue was knowing how much I enjoy Lancaster University. I’ve become so ingrained in the culture over the past year; I know the people, the campus, and the area. I enjoy writing for local newspapers and magazines, and I enjoy working for student recruitment at the university. I can pop home to see family and friends in just 90 minutes from Lancaster, whereas I just didn’t have that kind of freedom, or reassurance, in the US. Studying abroad called for a greater sense of adventure and independence; I was ready and willing, but it wasn’t how I expected.

Whilst a second university would inevitably look good on anyone’s CV, personally I didn’t feel confident in achieving high grades there. Whilst the course situation was pretty big, it was only part of the reason I decided to return home. The schooling structure unfortunately wasn’t suited to me anymore, and I was dreading the next week’s classes. Despite heading home after a matter of weeks, I don’t regret it in the slightest. Studying abroad does offer a wealth of benefits, but you need to enjoy the whole package to truly make it work.

Pictured: The University of New Hampshire Wildcat.

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