The day before I embarked on my year abroad, my dad bought me a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. On the inside, he’d written: “Remember ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrowmindedness’ – Mark Twain.” I boarded the plane and spent the ensuing nine months with that ethos in mind. When I got back, I gave my dad a quote in return: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know that place for the first time.” Basically what I’m trying to say is this: studying abroad is fucking excellent.
You should do it. Do it if you’re given the opportunity. It’s one of the easiest, cheapest and most fun ways to spend a year in another country. I went to Binghamton University, which is in upstate New York. It’s about a three hour bus ride to NYC, that’s a long journey here in the UK; but it’s nothing in the US. The summers there are hot and the winters are insufferably cold.
The latest Hugh Grant film, The Rewrite, is set and shot in and around the university I went to. Represent. I fancied the land of the free (with stipulations on the free), but you can choose from a plenty of places.
I was pretty staunchly set on studying abroad before I’d even started at Lancaster. But when houses for second year started to be viewed and I knew had to consciously dislocate myself from new friends, the decision got significantly harder. Why not just stay? Travel after university? After talking with parents and friends (I later recognised I was simply talking through what I felt rather than having much of a discussion) I stuck to the decision: there would be more regret in staying than going. The decision is the only real hurdle.
It isn’t ‘just a year abroad’. It’s studying abroad. And aside from work, there’s plenty to do. Before, there are visas to complete, flights, and insurance to book. While you’re there problems have to be dealt with, finances need to stretch (it’s truly doable for anyone, just make sure you have an overdraft) there are new friends to make, current ones to stay in touch with and deadlines to meet. It’s a whole new experience. It’s your life, but one that feels parallel to your ‘real’ home life. However, it soon becomes routine; so much so that when you return home (especially if you don’t come back for break), home feels weird, like the beginning of the parallel life you just came back from – hence the quote I relayed back to my dad.
But some people just don’t fancy it, and that’s obviously fine too. No one will weep for your choice to stay at your top ten university. And of course it’s not the only way to travel, if you want to at all. But if travelling is a priority, it’s one of the best ways to integrate with a diverse range of people. If you’re very close with your family, leaving would be hard; but it is manageable. If you rely greatly on your close friends, you’ll stumble; but still manage. The experience teaches you how to manage. If you get homesick, you’ll experience homesickness, but also ultimately overcome it. When I arrived in my dorm, three days before the vast majority of students arrived, greeted by an empty shell of a room, having forgotten to bring an adapter, phone dead, three thousand miles from home, I thought “what have I done?” Thankfully, this was a brief and singular lapse.
To borrow Nike’s mantra: “Just do it.” Or at least consider it. ‘It looks good on your CV and makes you stand out to employers, which is an obvious benefit. But ultimately, that’s a by-product. It can be about making amazing new friends, taking full control of what you want to do, being able to brag: “oh yeah I totally lived in another country for a year”. It could be all of these, some of these, none. Might as well try it, eh?