Wait, We Have a Week off in February?
Apparently there is a thing in at a lot of European Universities called reading week. Well actually it has many different names (innovative learning week or flexible learning week) but no one really knows what to call it. (I had multiple lecturers and tutors call it “skiing week” because apparently many people take the time to go skiing) Either way it gives students a week off in the middle of the spring semester. It is like spring break but technically our spring break is at the end of lectures before finals time. The time is supposed to be used for students to catch up on their work and possibly get ahead, so in other words it's a week for study abroad student to travel.
I have traveled a lot around Scotland seeing much or the highlands, various castles, lochs big and small, parts of the lowlands, and all the biggest cities in the country. I hadn’t yet left the United Kingdom yet in my two months here. One of the reason I picked to come to the UK was because of how easy it would be to travel to other countries within Europe. I was excited for reading week to take my first trip. My friends and I decided we would take the time to take a trip to Iceland. When I travel, the things that make me the most excited are the natural things, so Iceland’s natural beauty was on my Top 10 list! Here are some tips I learned about traveling to different places while studying abroad.
- Get sleep before! And during: This sounds like a silly thing. Like, obviously get sleep before you travel anywhere, but this is even more imperative when you are traveling while you are studying abroad. You are already in a foreign place and whether it feels like it anymore or not you are still a tourist everyday so when you become even more of a tourist somewhere else it takes a lot out of you. I started to get really worn down by the end because I thought it was fine to do a lot before and after my trip. I took an entire day after where I barely left my flat because I was so tired from all of my travels. I think if I paid more attention to the sleep I was getting before I wouldn’t be so exhausted.
- Do your assignments that are due AFTER you leave BEFORE you leave… but actually though: I knew coming the United Kingdom that I would have less day to day work, but even so you are never totally prepared for a new system. My whole semester rests on a few papers and a test. None of those papers are due 'til around midterm so it’s tough to start them right away. As everyone says, plan ahead with your work so you don’t stress out. I even told myself before I left for a week to Iceland that I was going to get my paper due on the Monday after I returned done before I left. Did I do that? Of course not. This left me with Sunday night after 8pm and Monday morning before 2pm to write a 2000 word essay on philosophy. Learn from my mistake and please at least start your work before you travel so you don’t stress the whole time you are gone and go through that 18 hour rush to write a paper worth half your grade.
- Don’t worry about planning everything on a tight schedule before: This was the first time (other than coming to Scotland) that I had to actually plan a trip and do it essentially by myself. I travelled with friends, but we were all relatively inexperienced travelers. I was really concerned with filling our days because you only have so much time to be in the country and you don’t know if you will ever make it back. I found that actually it was nice to gather ideas about what we wanted to do in the time and play it by ear each day. You never know if there is going to be a sudden blizzard between you and a three hour drive to the black sand beaches so don’t plan everything too exact or it will just disappoint you.
- Let yourself relax and not worry about school: As I said, I made the mistake of leaving a big paper that was due right after reading week till that week. I spent much of my trip in Iceland worrying about my paper and trying to finish the book I was writing my paper on. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy myself but I had to keep reminding myself to stay in the moment and enjoy myself. There was nothing I could do now, I could not go back and write my paper before I left so there is no use worrying about it while I am there.
- Get excited and remember you are really lucky to be able to even be there: I was really nervous about traveling with just my three friends for a week. It is hard to be with the same people for a week straight, especially with the stress of traveling. It is also scary because things might go wrong. But before and throughout my trip I kept reminding myself that I am excited and lucky to be able to experience these things. That even though things might not go as planned, people might not get along all of the time (actually my friends and I got along great while we were gone I was really pleasantly surprised how well we all traveled together), and things can get extremely stressful that you are extremely lucky to be here and you may never have an experience like this again.
Iceland was an amazing place. I absolutely loved it and I am so glad I went there when I did and who I went with. But one of the best parts was realizing how much I missed Scotland and how excited I was to get back to my temporary home. It was an amazing feeling when the plane touched down. I am more than excited to travel more around Europe this semester but I am happy that this first trip has made me realize how much I love and am overly happy about the choice I made to study here in Edinburgh, and of course how extremely lucky I am to be here.