By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University.
There is always a mix of anticipation, excitement and maybe some ‘fear of the unknown’ in the lead up to the day, on which, you will depart to your new home. This is normal, we are all nervous when we embark on something new. But if you are heading off to somewhere you hadn’t first planned to, perhaps you might be feeling these nerves a little bit more strongly. Most people, when they apply to study abroad, think really hard about what to put for their top three choices or maybe top five but think a lot less about the other remaining choices. That’s why when the day comes, and you find out you’ve been selected to study abroad but NOT at one of your top choices, you might feel a little disheartened. It might be that you haven’t done much research about this university, or it is in a place that is not well-known or maybe it is somewhere that doesn’t have the most positive reputation, like the southern states of the America, for example. However, panic not! I am here to tell you that wherever you have been assigned, and however deflated you might have felt when you found out – you are still going to have the BEST YEAR EVER!
My top choices were all in Canada and I ended up in North Carolina, a state that, firstly, most people don’t know where it is and secondly, when you tell them its in the South of the US they don’t seem to have much good to say. I was initially a bit upset when I found out that I hadn’t got into a Canadian university but after accepting it, I started to research North Carolina and was very pleasantly surprised with what I learnt about it. It was not a state that I had ever had reason to research before and since it is not a particular tourist destination, I didn’t know much about it. But having spent a year there, I think this is what makes it so special and such a great place to really immerse in American culture.
I think the main benefit of studying somewhere, that you don’t know much about, is that you really won’t know what to expect. This is so good because you won’t have any preconceived ideas, to compare to the reality of what it is actually like; you can just live the reality! Rather than becoming hung-up on comparing your expectations with what its really like, you can just dive right into getting to know the new culture. Furthermore, having little knowledge of the place, where you will be living, will encourage you to learn as much about it as possible, through meeting new people, trying new things, tasting new foods etc. etc.. And this is the whole point of studying abroad, to learn about a new culture, something which I think will seem even more appealing when you don’t know anything about the place to begin with! It will be a much more educational experience if your initial knowledge of the place is zero. There are also likely to be a lot less international influences, if the place is less well-known, and so you will end up getting a more authentic representation of what your host country is actually like.
Secondly, if your exchange location is somewhere unfamiliar to you, the chances are that it isn’t a place that you have thought about visiting. This means that your exchange really will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because you will be visiting a place that you might not have had the idea or opportunity to visit otherwise. It will be a chance to travel and experience things that you may never of heard of, but which may become some of the best places you have ever visited. I know that I had never imagined visiting North Carolina but now I can’t wait to go back and explore the parts of it I didn’t get a chance to visit. I didn’t imagine I’d be spending Christmas in the Smokey Mountains or Easter on the beach near Wilmington but I wouldn’t change either experience. Some of the best beauties in the world are the lesser known ones and going somewhere off the tourist track will mean that you will be able to discover your own special places, in your new home.
So, don’t despair if you don’t get your first choice, you will find a home in wherever you end up. It will all be new and exciting, and there will be so many things to discover! I even bet that by the time you leave, you will be thinking to yourself, why didn’t I put that place as my first choice?