5 things I’ve learnt since returning to Manchester.

By Lizzy Hardy (The University of California, Santa Barbara, USA)

I’ve now been back at home for nine months, and I’m in my last semester of a degree that seems to have lasted forever. A lot has changed since I studied abroad at UCSB – I’ve moved in to a flat all by myself, I’ve got a place to study law next year, and I’ve got myself a part-time job at the International Programmes Office. My very final thing to wrap up my study abroad experience is to write this final blog about my reflections on coming back to Manchester after spending a year away. Here they are:

1. Reverse-culture shock is definitely a thing. You’ve been away, you’ve had the most amazing year of your life. But now, you are home. You have to return to normal. This is more difficult than I ever expected, but it does get easier. I found that talking to other study abroad students helps a lot. They will be experiencing the same things as you.
2. If you’ve been away for a year, you will now have a new cohort of fellow students. Try and take the opportunity to make new friends. They aren’t as scary as you might think.
3. Now you’ve been a tourist in a new place for 6 -12 months, you will see Manchester in a completely new light. Make the most of coming back! Do not see it as the end of something great, but the beginning of a new phase in your life. Try and see all those things in Manchester that you always promised you would.
4. Use what you learned abroad as a unique advantage. Most people in your degree will have learned very similar things and taken very similar modules. Not you. You’ve gone abroad and done something totally different. Make this work in your favour! Use the quirky course you took to give a different perspective on your dissertation, or visit the Careers Service and figure out how to use the time you spent abroad to improve your employability.
5. Stay in touch with people. Sometimes putting the effort in across time zones can be tricky, but it’ll be worth it. Plus, you’ll always have a couch to crash on if you ever go back.

That’s all for now.

Lizzie.

Finally home!

By Elizabeth Hardy (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA).

It seems bizarre to be reading all the blogs of the students heading out for a year of fun abroad. I have now been home a month and life is (somewhat) getting back to normal. The only thing that reminds me the past year hasn’t been some crazy dream is knowing that I have changed. I am different; we all are different from our experiences. We are shaken up to a point that we cannot be put back together in the same way. We are challenged on how we have lived our lives so far. This is good for us. It forces us to grow.

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Hanging out at the Grand Canyon

There is such a heavy focus on the experience of living in a foreign country that the period of coming home is often overlooked, I feel. This is important. I was so nervous about coming home and being miserable after such a memorable year. It seemed that my return to England would inevitably seem unexciting and anti-climatic. This has, in fact, been far from the truth. I have spent a month at home reflecting on my year abroad and this is my conclusion – studying abroad has re-energised me and refocused my plans for the next few years. More importantly, it has inspired me and given me a confidence boost that I wasn’t even aware I was in need of. The point is simple; if I can live in a foreign country on my own and have such a great time, what else can I do? Just that little push to get out of my comfort zone and there it is! A whole world out there waiting.

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Lake Tahoe

This is not to say post-California blues have not occurred. When you are as enthusiastic about an experience, it is only natural to bore people of tales with “When I was in California….” and there are still days when I miss my friends and a place that (for some stretch of time) was called home. I certainly miss the sunshine and the 24 hour company. But the world is not as large as it once was, and Skype, Facebook and iPhones have all helped to bridge the gap and make that distance seem just a little bit smaller.

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Las Vegas

My final piece of advice is this; do not fear moving from ‘home’. What is ‘home’, so it turns out, is utterly transient. It is not a place, but more a messy combination of the right place, time, and most importantly, the right people. ‘Home’ will change as you do. My roots will always be in the place I grew up, but my home will be wherever I choose. This is a freedom, and one to be enjoyed. Love, Lizzie.

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And finally…

By Elizabeth Hardy.

So, more or less everyone has left for their exciting year abroad. And after patiently waiting for months watching other people have fun, it is my turn to go. And leaving the airport just a week ago, I had no idea of the crazy (but amazing) experience this week’s upheaval would be for me.

To help me organize my thoughts, I think I’ll make a list. These are the things that have struck me most about California in my first week:

  1. Size. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is bigger here. Be prepared for food to be about 4 meals worth. The good thing I have learnt is that it is totally acceptable to ask for a doggy bag/box to take the food home with you. Take-away food is really cheap as well, so you can get a few meals in one for not much.
  2. Speaking of size, the roads. Coming into Santa Barbara via Los Angeles is certainly an experience. The roads are huge, and of course everyone drives on the odd (I won’t say ‘wrong’) side of the road. It is expected that you will learn this fast, otherwise you will be squashed by a huge truck that nearly everyone seems to own.
  3. This is not London. People in Santa Barbara, often complete strangers, are happy to help out. I am so grateful I took advantage of this – being completely new in a foreign country is frightening and often very disorientating. Luckily I managed to find several people very quickly to help me, and for that I am thankful.
  4. The academic system. It is very different to how we study in the UK – mainly because class participation is not only recommended but necessary to get a good grade, and because there is a huge emphasis here on continuous assessment. For example, in one of my classes there are 3 scheduled tests and 4 unscheduled tests during the 10 week quarter. Whilst the tests will be bite-sized compared to what UK students are used to, you also have to be on your academic game all the time. I’ll make sure to post more on the academic system when I’ve had more time to understand it!
  5. Fraternities and Sororities. They exist. They are almost exactly like in films. I am yet to discover much about them but from what I can gather they are indeed as bizarre as they look.
  6. The sun. It shines, all the time. Yay!

For the people that have managed to read this far, I’ll give you a little information about the University itself. UCSB (University of California Santa Barbara) is based about a 2 hour drive north of LA, on the coast. And when I say on the coast, I mean this in the most literal term – the University owns it’s own lagoon and beach. This is a regular haunt for students and is quieter than you would imagine, particularly considering the amazing sunsets.

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The University Beach

Most students live just outside of campus, in a place called Isla Vista (IV). IV is pretty well known as a party town, particularly nearer the beach although there are some quieter spots. The benefit of living in IV (as I do) is that it is very close to campus, which is so much bigger than Manchester. Try to imagine University spanning from University place to the end of curry mile and you’re just about there.

In terms of accommodation, I live in co-operative housing. This is essentially a cheaper way of living with other people, where chores and cooking are shared. If you are interested in how this works, I myself am still learning so it would be beneficial to direct you to the website: www.sbcoop.org. All I can say is, I have met some fantastic people so far and I am very excited to see how the relationships I am starting to forge develop over the upcoming year. I am insanely excited for the upcoming year in general!

That’s all for now folks.

Lizzie.