FROM A STUDENT WHO ALMOST DIDN’T GO
To those students going abroad in Semester 2 just as I did, the long wait between receiving your placement offer and that eventual flight out can feel endless. There were many times I found myself frantically trying to recount why I’d wanted to go abroad in the first place – the initial excitement now wearing off and the reality of the wait ahead sinking in.
But as a student who DID go, and who found herself lying awake on one of her last nights at the National University of Singapore, thinking – almost alarmed – about the fact she’d nearly cancelled her placement; here are the five things I wish I knew before studying abroad, which would have made that wait easier.
1. There really is nothing quite like studying abroad
There’s summer travel, sure, but being in a foreign place and living like a local with a stream of new friends at your disposal, and plenty of pastoral and financial support? Now that’s something I could do with more often! While abroad I became so aware of how unique this experience was. Having the support from a university (particularly in a pandemic) in this process was invaluable, and knowing I had assistance should I have run into difficulty mean’t I was able to enjoy the experience so much more fully. It’s an opportunity I would recommend to anyone, and one I feel sad I won’t be able to replicate again.
2. Your university friends won’t move on without you
This is the hard part. Many students worry about this! Although you’ll be gone a long time and life can get busy, stay in touch with your uni friends. Find out what’s happening back home and share with them what new things you’re trying. When you come back, if you find you’re not as close to some people as when you left – that’s okay! It’s a normal part of life! But those core people really do stay with you. My study abroad came as a time where I felt my social life was peaking, I was growing closer to new friends, and I couldn’t see why I’d ‘ruin’ a good thing. All I can say is: take the plunge! It feels crazy in the moment, but a second semester in Manchester, although fun, never really could have challenged and enriched me like a semester abroad did.
3. A little bit of uncertainty does you good
Studying in a foreign country can seem incredible daunting. New people, new routines, new food – but if anything, being abroad made me so much calmer and far more adaptable to unfamiliar situations – without me even realising it! There are moments you feel homesick, or caught unawares, or out of your depth – but they pass, and leave you a little bit more resilient each time. There’s no growth without a bit of challenge.
4. You’ll learn to become a tourist in your own city
It really did take spending three months studying 10,841km away from home to remind me how thrilling it is to be a tourist. When I returned that summer that feeling stayed, and I found myself really taking in the places I grew up in, but seeing all the usual details I’d usually miss. Even the most mundane things fascinated me whilst abroad – all those little cultural differences we aren’t even aware of. Coming home, I paid more attention to them and more so in my final year at Manchester.
5. You really won’t stop talking about it when you come home
Everyone always jokes about the gap year students who talk non-stop about the time they spent abroad – but that’s for a reason, and it’s going to become you! Your friends might roll their eyes, but so many little things back home home will remind you of what you miss about your time abroad. It could be an inside joke no one understands, or an insatiable craving for those amazing paratha in the uni canteen you now need to replicate, or being able to sit outside on warm evenings with friends now scattered across the globe. These things stay with you, and although sometimes missing them hits hard, I really do feel so lucky to have something to miss!