By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University
Its Friday afternoon and I am sat in a coffee shop on Hillsborough street. Nothing particularly interesting is happening, I am just catching up with my friend, organising my life and doing a bit of homework. But it just hit me how comfortable I am here in Raleigh, how at home I feel with the day to day life here. My life in England feels so far away and in some ways it is! Its been 5 months since I left the UK and whilst I definitely do miss it, and miss the people there, it really hasn’t been on my mind as much as I thought it would. I’ve really settled into my life here at NC State, to the point where I can’t quite believe that I am going to have to leave here in 4 months, leaving behind everything that has been my entire life for the past 5 months. It is such a bittersweet feeling, it makes me sad that I am going to have to leave but also makes me feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience in the first place. So in the light of this realisation, I decided it was time to reflect on my first semester here at NC State and share some of the things which helped make it such a great semester.
Firstly, I loved having the opportunity to work as part of a group in one of my classes. It was for the Physics Lab module I had to take and I worked with two Americans on a group project for the whole semester. The reason I loved it so much is that I formed such a close relationship with both of the guys because we were spending so much time together. I learnt so much about America from them and we would regularly discuss different issues, comparing the average British view on the topic to the average American view. It was such a fun environment to work in and I left every class feeling as though I had learnt something new about America. It really made me feel as though I was having a true exchange experience because I was sharing my culture with people who were very interested in it and they were sharing theirs with me. It felt like I was getting an authentic insight into America and what it is like for the average person. So I would recommend to everyone that they try and take a class that involves group work. It is the best way to meet different people you might not otherwise come into contact with and it is the best way to learn a lot about the country you are studying in.
Secondly, one thing that I learnt last semester is that it is very important to get a good work-life balance, even more so than in Manchester. Being on exchange is like being on a holiday that never stops, people are always up to travel, experience new things, hang-out, the list is endless, but one thing for certain is that it never stops! Therefore, it can be overwhelming to try and manage uni work when everyone seems to be constantly socialising and the fear of missing out is real. It is also made harder when your year abroad counts towards your final degree and most other exchange students are just on pass/fail. This is something I found particularly difficult because I actually had to try with my classes, whilst all my other friends were cruising through them doing as little work as possible because it didn’t matter too much. It took me a while to get to grips with this lifestyle but once I worked it out it didn’t feel too bad. One thing that definitely made it easier was that over here people love studying together, which meant that having to stay up late studying could be turned into something social. I often find myself going with a group of people for a study session at the library, which makes it feel not as bad. You can work for a couple of hours, then take a break together before getting back to studying. You kill two birds with one stone; you are productive but surrounded by friends which is great!
Thirdly, one of my greatest realisations after being here for a year is just how small the world is. It sounds ridiculous but it is true and it haws already had such a positive impact on my life. Since being here and loving living abroad, I have applied for a research internship in Germany this summer. This is not something I had thought about before and if I hadn’t studied abroad I am not sure I would have decided to apply. But living in the US for the past semester gave me the confidence to apply because I now have the mindset that no matter where you are in the world you will never feel that far away from home. Facetime and social media mean that no matter where you are in the world you will always feel connected to home. I facetime my family once a week and this regular contact with them makes me feel as though I am not really missing anything and that I am still a part of a home life. Also having met international students from all over the world helps make the world feel smaller, because there is a comforting face in so many places. Australia no longer seems alien, I know people from Ecuador, India is now in my top three places to visit and South Africa seems like a viable travel destination. I am now so excited to explore and having contacts all over the world means that this desire to discover the world is a much more achievable dream. The world feels like my oyster and I just want to take every opportunity I can to discover it, because I know that I will never be too far away from home.