The best year of your life?

Lottie Harold –  Geography – University of California, Los Angeles – United States

Everyone says your year abroad will be the greatest year of your life. That in mind, I went to UCLA with the expectation that every moment would be pure bliss, I’d be constantly happy, and I’d have made new best friends for life instantly. Of course this didn’t happen. And when it didn’t, a million questions started circling my head: Have I made the right decision? Have I just wasted all this time and money to come here and not be happy? Why does everyone seemed to have settled in so much better than I have?

It has been my dream to come to UCLA and live in Los Angeles for about 10 years now, the sun, the glam, the California lifestyle, and I was over the moon to receive a place here. The first week of welcome events was great, it felt like I was on a permanent holiday. But as I went to my first class the next day I absolutely hated it, and trying to swap to a different class was a nightmare: clashing timetables, clashing exams, not enough places. I quickly became very anxious and down, believing I was going to fail the year, that I was letting my parents down, that I’d never make it through the next 9 months, and mostly that I was going to have a miserable year when I had looked forward to it so much, and put so much effort into getting here.

Another factor – LA is a HUGE place. I had dreams of walking to Hollywood on an afternoon off to take in the sites of my new home. But oh no, LA covers nearly 500 square miles and you need a car to see anything. This dashed my hopes of any chance of exploring, particularly as my roommates are local to the area and don’t want to spend time going to all the tourist destinations for a million times.

After crying myself to sleep that night, the next day I decided to go to the Counselling Service. UCLA has a fantastic team of over 50 counsellors that see over 22% of the student population every year! Talking to someone about how I felt made me feel much better, and my counsellor, Dr. Bryan, encouraged me to change my mindset: rather than starting at 100 and expecting the year to be excellent, start at 0, grab a fresh slate, and see what you can make of your time here.

In order to make new friends and see more of LA, I’ve joined a number of clubs including Quidditch, Hiking Club and the International Student Association. Within a week I was training regularly with new friends on my team, hiking in the Santa Monica mountains and Hollywood Hills, and visiting all the popular tourist destinations with international students! I’ve chosen new classes that I’m enjoying much more, and keeping up with schoolwork, as well as doing a different activity each evening and at the weekends to give me something to look forward to.

So whilst this post isn’t the usual type you see on On the Road, I thought it would be important for anyone feeling down during the process to understand that help is there, as and when you need it! Please don’t be afraid to admit you are suffering, and don’t be embarrassed to seek out a counselling service. Mental health shouldn’t be taboo anymore, so don’t suffer in silence!

I struggled so badly in that first couple of weeks, but now, a month in, I’ve explored so many places, met so many people, and love living here. Be patient! Allow yourself a few weeks to settle – these weeks may not be the most fun but soon the opportunities will start pouring in and you’ll be away.

I’m back on track in thinking that my study abroad year WILL be a fantastic year, not because everyone says it will be, but because I’m going to make it a fantastic year!

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