I’d be lying if I said I’ve started packing. I’ve started...thinking about it. That counts, right? I’m not quite in “frantic packing mode” just yet, but give it another week and I’m sure I will be.
The study abroad folks at The College of Wooster (my home college) said that you should make a list of everything you want to bring and divide it by half to get what you can actually pack.
All that’s to say, while I’m very excited about this program, it still doesn’t seem real. January 22, the day my flight leaves, is a very real date on the calendar and grows closer each moment, but in another way it’s still an abstraction.
And it can be little else. What experience, after all, do I have to compare to this? I’ve little basis for imagining beyond what I’ve heard and seen online.
Mind you, I’ve been abroad before. For four weeks in summer 2007 I traveled around England and Scotland as part of a program called People to People, but I was only 12 years old at the time, and the trip was very closely chaperoned.
I’ve never traveled abroad with any degree of autonomy, and never since entering “adulthood.”
It’s so close, so exciting, so utterly strange.
What compelled me to embark on this adventure, anyway? It all started a little over a year ago...
Why I Chose This Program
When I met with my academic advisor to discuss study abroad options, he told me that as an English major my choices were Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, or the Republic of Ireland. After discussing the merits of the various universities available in these countries, I decided that I wanted to study somewhere in the U.K. or the Republic of Ireland.
While the programs in Australia and New Zealand looked excellent, I wanted to pick somewhere that would allow me to explore Europe while still having an English-speaking “homebase.”
Having narrowed the options to the U.K. and Ireland, I eventually selected Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). Looking at its location, it was the perfect distance from the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. I was especially intrigued by its proximity to Dublin, a city whose literary heritage is of great interest to me as an English major. Also, I don’t actually know anyone from Wooster who has studied abroad in Northern Ireland, so I thought I’d do something a little different.
There was another practical reason I chose QUB: it was only a couple hours from some dear family friends whom I’d known since I was very young. I figured it would be nice to be close to some familiar people so that they could show me around and help me if I ran into any problems.
Finally, I picked QUB because of its difference from The College of Wooster. As a decent sized urban university, it will provide an enlightening contrast to my current liberal arts college of less than 2,000 students.
What I’m Looking Forward To
There’s so much I’m looking forward to about my study abroad experience. Here are a few things I’m especially excited about:
- Exploring a new country on my own. As I said, I’ve been outside the U.S. before, but never with the autonomy of a university student. This time around I’ll be able to decide where I go and what I see—it’s a lot of responsibility and will present many new choices, but what an opportunity!
- Meeting new people and making friends from other cultures. While I’ve been lucky to attend a college that has international students from a plethora of countries and cultures, studying at Queen’s will expose me to even more new cultures and people. I can’t wait to get to know all the cool people there!
- Trying new food (and drinks). One of my favorite parts of traveling is sampling new food (I hear the traditional Irish breakfast is amazing). In addition to eating at new restaurants and pubs, I’m also curious to see what sort of different ingredients are available at the local markets and stores, since I’ll be cooking most of my own food.
- Living on my own in a city. While I’ve lived “on my own” for the past two and a half years of college, it’s always been in the small town of Wooster, OH. I’ve never lived on my own in a city like Belfast, so I’m excited to experience that for the first time.
- Visiting places with rich literary history. As an English major, I would be remiss if I didn’t visit all the great areas of literary history that Ireland and the U.K. have to offer. Top of my list are seeing everything Yeats and Joyce-related in Dublin and seeing a Shakespeare production at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. I’ve read about these places for years, and now I’ll get to see them.
- Learning some of the Irish language. I received an Irish dictionary/phrasebook for Christmas, and I’m hoping to learn enough that I can visit some areas in the Gaeltacht and not sound like a total tourist. We’ll see..
- Traveling around the rest of the U.K., Ireland, and Europe during break. I only recently learned that QUB has a pretty extensive spring break, so I plan to take full advantage of that time to see other areas in Europe and the U.K. In particular, I’ve never been to Wales, so I’m definitely going there, and beyond that I hope to go wherever the mood (and my budget) takes me.
What I’m Nervous About
While my feelings toward studying abroad are mostly excited, there are a few things I’m nervous about:
- Making friends at a new university in a new place. I’ve always been a bit shy, and as any of my friends can attest, I’m definitely an introvert. This isn’t to say I can’t make friends, but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as some people. I know that once I get there and get involved I’ll meet awesome people, but I’m still a bit nervous about the awkward first meetings and being the guy with the strange American accent. It’s okay, though—this is a chance to improve my social skills.
- Culture shock. This is one of the main things that Wooster’s study abroad office warned us about at our last meeting. Culture shock is inevitable, and I can’t know exactly how it will manifest itself. I know that I’ll adjust once I get into a routine and get my bearings, but the unknowns of it worry me a bit.
- Adjusting to a different educational system. Before I left, I asked my department chair if Wooster students studying abroad in the U.K. ever had problems adjusting to British spellings and the general conventions of British English. She said that as long as I changed my word processor’s language to British English I’d be fine, but I’m still worried I’ll say or write some “Americanism” that no one understands. I’m sure the professors will be a bit lenient about that, right?
- Looking like a tourist. While this certainly isn’t a vacation, I still plan to see plenty of sights while abroad, and I hope I don’t look too much like a tourist. I’ve been told, for instance, that students in the U.K. dress much better for class than their American counterparts, so I’m going to do my best not to look like a slob. I guess the best thing to do is just to embrace that I’m going to make a few faux pas here and there—it’s inevitable.
As my grandma keeps reminding me, studying abroad is “the journey of a lifetime.” While I certainly don’t plan for it to be my last great travel experience, I do aim to make everything I can of it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to packing. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be writing my next update from my room at Queen’s. Stay tuned!