By Peter Rowan, UC Berkeley, USA
Are you thinking of studying abroad? Or have you already taken the plunge and are preparing for next year’s big adventure?
Either way, you’re probably nervous, excited, somewhat confused and wondering how in the world you should approach this gargantuan adventure…
Well, fear not for help is at hand! And it comes in the form of Peter’s Rough Guide to Studying Abroad (Part I)! I have just finished my first semester at UC Berkeley in California. Its been a thrilling, exciting roller-coaster that has whipped by in seemingly no time at all. Along the way I picked up a few things…
- Dive straight in.
You arrive. You’re disorientated and jet lagged. Perhaps the one thing you want to do is to take it slowly and ‘find your feet’. But trust me, the best way is to jump straight in to everything your University has to offer. In my first few weeks at Berkeley I was going to events every day: international orientations, events for student clubs and fraternities, nights out with random people, trips to different parts of California. Its important to take advantage of these opportunities at the start of the semester because its THE time to meet people and find clubs to join. As a result, I have met some amazing friends and joined some incredible organisations. Had I ‘taken it slowly’, my experience would have been no where near the same.
- Build a Network.
The verb to ‘network’ can evoke images of people in suits at formal events, trying to find finding ‘important’ people and make themselves known. That’s really not networking. Think instead that in ten years’ time, those other students around you are going to be scattered across the globe doing fantastic and inspiring things. You and your peers are the future leaders.
So take every opportunity to connect to people. I did this by joining clubs, going to professors’ office hours, or just striking up a conversation with people in coffee shops. Through this, I met some thought-provoking and adventurous people who have enabled me to grow and develop.
- Travel, travel, travel.
Travelling is good for the spirit. It’s a way to learn about places through your own experience, rather than relying on other people’s interpretations. In these few months I have travelled across California and around the nation, from Chicago to New York, to Los Angeles and Hawaii.
But let me emphasise this: you have your whole life to be a tourist, but you will most likely never study in another country again. So find the right balance between travelling and spending time in your University. I did this by packing most of my travelling into my winter break (await the next blog for the full story). My weekends I spent in and around Berkeley, hanging out with my Californian friends, this way I experienced the true ‘student life’.
- Take time to reflect
Studying abroad is not just about studying; its about living in an alien country, challenging yourself and ultimately personal growth. Personal growth is best when you are aware of it, so that you can guide yourself and take the paths that will benefit you the most.
So take time to reflect. Keep a journal, meditate, go into the mountains for an afternoon; just take yourself out of the tempest of life to work out where to step next. I did this by running up into the mountains behind Berkeley whenever my head started to whirl. Standing on those peaks, looking over the vista of the bay, the next steps in my semester would just seem to fall into place.
- Actually do study!
Studying abroad is a fantastic chance to see into the minds of other people: to see how other nations and other universities see and discuss the world. Certainly the courses I have taken at Berkeley have challenged me to think in different ways and critically not just my academics, but also my heritage (perhaps inevitably as a Brit in America). I feel it has also given me a solid foundation of knowledge and skills to boost my studies next semester.
- Just Do It!
Taking the leap to study abroad is a frightening prospect… can you really survive and thrive in another country for a whole year? Well, as Richard Branson puts it: “say yes – then learn how to do it later.” Studying abroad really has been a life-changing experience for me. While it has been hugely challenging I am stronger and more ambitious as a result. So please, just go for it and enjoy the roller-coaster ride!