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Choosing a Program: Finding and Creating a Home

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.

Leeds City Centre

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.

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Gigantic Chess matches in the City Centre

 

 

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.

The ruins of Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey Ruins

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.

The Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake at Cupackes by Charley in the city centre

The Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake from Cupackes by Charley

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.

Overcoming and Learning from Challenges Abroad

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez 

Before leaving for my study abroad journey to Sweden, I was feeling like any other student: excited for the new adventures and yet a little nervous for what was to come. My itinerary had two connections, the latter was at Heathrow Airport in London, U.K. After landing at Heathrow, I would take a direct flight to Stockholm which would finally deliver me to my host country. But, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

We landed early in the morning in London, and I woke to see the airport runways covered with snow. I could sense the panic in the travelers around me. Something was definitely wrong. I exited the plane and hurried through to find my gate, but once I arrived I was told that ALL European connecting flights were cancelled. This meant that over 400 flights were scrapped because of one fluffy inch of snow. It was unbelievable!

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At this moment, I knew that I would have to face this unexpected challenge head on. I found an airport agent who told me I had to go to the 5th floor re-booking center so I could be put on a new flight. When I got there, I was astonished. There were hundreds of people waiting in line, and the line wrapped around the entire floor.

Then, I remembered some words I was told during my Study Abroad Pre-Departure orientation: “things may not always turn out as planned, but you can do your best to have a rewarding experience while abroad.” This motivated me, and I got in line, hoping for the chance to get on a flight to Sweden.

The day passed slowly, and it was nearing closing hours. I was one person away from the front of the line when it was announced that the re-booking center would be closing until 5am the next morning. I was extremely disappointed, but I had to look at the bright side of things. The airline provided me and fellow passengers with mats and blankets, dinner, and free internet, so I took the opportunity to contact my family via Skype. Hearing their comforting words helped me renew my self confidence.

Despite the circumstances, I encouraged myself and I had a certain faith that I would be in Sweden the next morning. Night passed quickly, and by 8am I was finally re-booked on a flight directly to Stockholm. I made it to the Stockholm airport just in time to catch a bus to the Uppsala city center. There, I randomly met two other Danish exchange students who showed me around and took me to the housing office where I picked up the keys to my room.

Upon my arrival, I had a moment of realization. I had the opportunity to live in a different country and experience its language and culture to the fullest. After two long days, and countless hours of jet lag, I was finally in Uppsala and I was finally studying abroad.

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Now, I look back on those first two days and feel grateful. Though the circumstances weren’t ideal, they taught me that if I could overcome those challenges and uncertainties, I could tackle anything my study abroad semester threw at me.

Perseverance, confidence and support through uncertainty are important qualities that are developed and reinforced while studying abroad. Now, I am always confident that no matter what flight gets cancelled, or where I have to spend the night, I can remain calm, encourage myself and know that I survived that night on a yoga mat at Heathrow airport and everything turned out just fine.