Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Here at the Illinois Study Abroad Office we get an array of questions ranging from “what schools are most similar to the University of Illinois” to “what city has the best student life?” However, one of our most frequent inquires is the age old question “how do I even get started trying to study abroad!?” Well you are in luck, from the comfort of your own couch I will tell you four ways that helped me plan my international abroad experience!
- Decide what you want out of your academic experience.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. You meet people from around the world, visit breathtaking monuments, and (depending on your location) can travel to other countries as well. However, we must remember the study in study abroad. You don’t want to end up at an institution you don’t like for 4-6 months just because it is in Italy! Figure out how studying abroad fits in with your academic goals. Ask yourself, do you want to take general education classes or fulfill major requirements? Does your college restrict you from taking certain classes away from campus? Thinking about your academic future can definitely help you narrow down your choices for which program you would like to apply to.
- Speak to your advisor.
Your home university advisor is not around to just send you pesky e-mails about class registration! Use their guidance to help you decide which classes you can take abroad and how this will affect you once you return from overseas. Here at the University of Illinois we have a specific set of advisors in each department that specialize in helping students choose classes that will keep their academic career going. Click here to see this great resource and contact your Study Abroad 299 advisor today!
- Where do you want to live?
The study abroad experience allows students to enjoy a variety of locations in over 60 different countries. So many options can provide a variety of living experiences. Think of what type of environment you want to live in abroad. Do you prefer something similar to your home university? Would you like to be in a small rural city or large city? How comfortable you are with figuring out public transportation? Would a host family or dorm life be a better fit for what you want out of your study abroad program? Questions like these helped me choose my perfect host university!
- Visit your Study Abroad Office!
It is true that the study abroad experience is a lot of independent research and decision making; however, your Study Abroad Office is always here to help you! One of the best ways to get started is visiting your local SAO advisors and staff. Sometimes talking to someone is the best way to figure out what you really want in regards to leaving the country. Program Assistants at the Illinois Study Abroad Office are students just like you who needed guidance on how to study abroad and now we look forward to helping you out in the same way! Please come visit to talk about your study abroad experience today!
Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
“We should come home from adventures, perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.” –Henry David Thoreau
Before I stepped a toe into any airport to fly solo to the United Kingdom, I spent months combing over blogs, government sites, and even Pinterest – I’m ashamed to reveal that last source – in failed attempts to piece together clues about what my study abroad experience may look like. Although I have lived in several countries in Europe before I never visited the city my program was being held. I was finally bursting out of the “campus-life” bubble and, even though that feeling was invigorating, the idea of not being around familiar surroundings was terrifying!
However…I made it sixth months “across the pond” and returned home –for the most part- unscathed (sorry for those impromptu ear piercings in France, Mom and Dad)! The most rewarding moments I had abroad were the times that I traveled off the beaten path and explored the cities I was so fortunate enough to be in. Here are three tips that helped me make the most of my time outside of the classroom:
Talk to the locals. “But what if they realize I’m a foreigner?” Well you are, so embrace it! Don’t worry if you think a native will judge you; chances are they will find you to be a novelty and will want to know more about you too. Plus, you may even pick up a few new friends along the way. Locals are a great resource to understand a city’s public transportation system, the best eateries, and the coolest places to blow off steam after long nights of studying.
Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. Grab a map, your camera, and just go! Your study abroad program will go by much quicker than you think. Before school starts and things really pick up try to map out some tourist locations you would love to visit around town. You may think you’ll have 4-6 months to see it all but between finals, making friends, and traveling you may miss out on some hidden gems located in the city of your host university.
Travel light on the weekends. If you study in Europe, you’ll soon find out that historic towns with cobblestone streets – although completely gorgeous – are not great for rolling around luggage. If you are taking weekend trips to a neighboring city try limiting yourself to a backpack. You really only need the essentials and it will be much easier to carry if you have to wait for a train or need to pass time outdoors until your hostel room is ready.
Fear of the unknown is absolutely normal but don’t let that deter you from exploring something new! Let’s be honest, you’re most likely going to get lost at one point during your journey but you’re also going to come back with memorable experiences and tons of pictures that will make all of your Instagram followers terribly jealous.
Guest Blogger: Amanda Toledo
On the cover of a journal my mom bought me, there’s a George Bernard Shaw quote that reads “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about Creating yourself.” Cheesy as inspirational-quote journals may be, I like the sentiment, although I think that life is more a mixture of both seeking and creating. Deciding which study abroad program to go on is no less challenging for some than deciding which university to go to or what to major in. Many students enter the Resource Room knowing they want to go abroad but not knowing where in the world they’d like to go. Program Assistants work to assist these students in finding what works best for them academically as well as personally. When you’re going abroad, whether for a short-term program, a semester, or an entire year, the fact remains that wherever you go, you are creating a home away from home.
When assisting students I often use myself as an example, calling myself a city kid. Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, when I moved to the actual city in high school, I found that the vibrant, swift, and busy life of a city suited me more than slower, mellower pace of suburban Illinois. When looking for study abroad options, I knew that living in a city would be integral for me. Like most students I’ve spoken with over the past two years, my first thought when it came to England was London. When investigating the programs in London, I discovered there weren’t any options in my price range at the time.
It required more research then, to look up what other English cities the study abroad office had programs in, and which offered classes in my major. I decided on Leeds, the third largest city in England. Of the city options, I chose Leeds because when looking through their class catalogue (“modules” instead of “classes” in the UK) I found a class that sounded interesting to me: an upper level course on the history of witchcraft in literature. In the end, it was a balanced decision between location and academics that landed me on a place I’d someday feel intense homesickness for.
Leeds gave me my fill of a city, but it also gave me the new experience of a walking city. In between classes and homework and day trips to different locations around the United Kingdom, I’d spend my time wandering down the cobblestoned streets of city centre; passing through the Arcades, stopping in at the (free!) museums and art galleries. As the weather grew warmer, I took the fifty minute walk from my flat to city centre instead of the ten minute bus ride, seeing rolling hills turn into the pubs, shops, and panini places that became familiar and comforting to me over the sixth months I lived there. A fifteen minute walk in the opposite direction from my flat landed me at the ruins of a monastery, towering into the sky, beautiful and stoic in its gorgeous park setting.
This is not to say that life in Leeds was without its struggles, but through those struggles and those delights, I created someone confident, someone who relished the independence of exploring a museum with only herself and the art for company. I created a home away from my family and everything I knew, and discovered the power in that.
At the end of my semester, my mom came to visit for a week. Although her flight got delayed a day, and I really ought to have met her in London (where most of our week together had been planned), I insisted she come to Leeds, even just for the first afternoon. London is my favorite place in the world, it’s thrilling and beautiful on a grander scale than you can imagine, and I would love to live there someday, but Leeds was my home.
I knew the best place to take my mom for fish and chips, I knew all the flavors at the local cupcake shop, and which ones to recommend; I knew Leeds.
I can honestly say I have only met one or two people that did not like their programs abroad. Most people feel about their cities the way I feel about Leeds, whether they picked a setting they knew they liked, or chose something that was perhaps out of their comfort zone, but an exciting challenge. I’ve heard students wax nostalgic about their host families, or excitedly recount their adventures of their host countries. Any program abroad will be a mixture of finding and creating a place for yourself in the world; but it’s a journey worth taking.
Begin your journey now! The deadline for this Winter Break programs and Spring semester programs is September 15th.
Excerpt from the Blog of: Lindsey Watts
Studied Abroad: Swansea, Wales
This past weekend I explored the other famous part of this city called the Gower Peninsula. It has just been rated the 10th best beach in the world and number 1 in the UK. Naturally, I was going to have to go check it out. I got a few of my friends together and went for a Saturday afternoon. We were lucky because there was 0% chance of rain
and though there were some cloudy skies and it was very cold, it was still a great day for an adventure. We got on the bus for free(!) and went to Rhossili which is a very small village in the Gower. The village is comprised of a church, a hotel, a few shops and that is it. The village is very cutewith all of the buildings made of stone. However, the village only takes about 10 min to look at. The real attraction is what surrounds it. Looking around for miles, as far as you can see, is beautiful landscape. A view that words can simply not express. I was standing on a piece of land that stopped at the ocean before me, creating stony cliffs, covered in bright green grass and topped with hundreds of sheep. Yes, I said it. There were hundreds of sheep both wild and owned living on the same land. They would be about 6ft away from us and then run away.
The Gower is composed of many cliffs and an island called Worm’s Head. There is a rocky sea floor tureen that bridges the cliffs’ main land to the island. Many people go across and hike on the island and then come back. However, you must be careful because when the tide comes in the water goes over the rocky bridge and you can be stranded on the island until the tide goes back out. The good news is that there is a small building at the end of the main land where some cute old men volunteer as a coast guard and watch out for those who go over. By the time we made it to the edge of the main land we only had an hour until the tide would be there. Most of us thought that we did not have time to go across and come back, though my friend, Paul, decided to go for it and ended up having to half run there and back. He said he had a great time though and would love to go back and do it when he had more time. I also would like to do that when my parents come and I take them there.
After adventuring around (me climbing down a little bit off the cliff) and Paul finding some caves, we went to the small hotel and had a nice small meal. I had a nice lentil and vegetable soup with some bread and a side of chips (steak fries). We then looked in a couple of the gift stores they have and then hopped on the bus back by 2:30pm. Before we left we also got a glimpse of a very old church that had graves from the 1800s and some that were from just 20 years ago. I am sure it would be super spooky during Halloween, but it was pretty cool just to see.
Guest Blogger: Amanda Toledo, Peer Advisor
My first two days in Leeds, England were spent on campus, busily running around getting my student ID, taking campus tours, finding my way home from Morrison’s (the grocery store) and having my first pint at The Old Bar in the Union. My evenings were spent in my quiet, distanced, cold dorm where, for those first two nights, my broken window let in winds that went through it like a sieve and made a noise equivalent to that of a shrieking tea kettle. Overwhelmed with the shock of a new culture and an overload of information, I didn’t have a familiar, comfortable place to process it all; I was homesick.
I video chatted with my aunt each night, sobbing about my misery and ordering her not to tell my parents I was having a tough time. After emailing a friend back home, I got the best piece of advice in that moment of homesick-crisis: plan things. Plan three things to do in the next two weeks: buy a bus ticket for a day trip, go to a club meeting, plan a night out to dinner with other international students, whatever it took to get out of my room and into the thriving city. By the end of the first week I had found friends, a cupcake shop, and classes I enjoyed. I still called my family members at night, but now it was to gush about the incredible British experiences and the amazing British toothpaste I’d bought (in my phase of awe, regular objects became endowed with a magical, charming, English quality).
A month later as my friend and I were leaving Se7en, my favorite local Panini place, a man stopped me on the street. His eyes were wide in a mild panic and he asked me if I could give him directions to a store in the city centre. Without thinking I gave him precise directions on how to get from where we stood to the store he sought, telling him it’d be about a ten-minute walk. After he thanked me and walked away, the significance of the moment struck me. I turned to my friend (another international student) and said, “I knew how to give him directions! I’m like a local!” It was in that moment I realised I had found my place in Leeds; the city had not just been an adventure but had become my home.