Lessons Learned in Oxford, England
Don’t feel like you need to do everything with the same group of people. Go it alone from time to time.
By Katrina Demlow, Indiana University
As the end of my summer study abroad program nears, I’ve been reflecting a lot about my experience. To give you a bit of background, I am currently on a three week long study abroad trip to Oxford, England. As I write this, I only have 3 full days left! I’ve had the opportunity to visit Oxford, London, Bath, and Paris over the course of the trip and have learned so much!
Here is some of my biggest advice that I’ve learned while studying abroad!
1. Sleep when you get home. Study abroad programs are absolutely exhausting. For my program, we have class for three to five hours each day, oftentimes followed by some sort of activity. We had a guest speaker who spoke about Shakespeare one night, for example. Aside from that, we often have days where we field trip from 4am to 11pm at night. Combine that with homework, sightseeing, and social activities, and you’ve got one tired group of travelers! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to take a nap or go to bed early after strenuous days of sightseeing. But every time I consider it, a pressing thought of what I’m missing out on always seeps in. I’ve come to the realization that this opportunity to travel is a once in a lifetime opportunity and that I can sleep anytime when I get back to the United States. But while I’m here, I refuse to pass up a memorable experience to get some extra sleep. There are bound to be nights where nothing is going on or even long bus rides to take naps, so plan your sleep accordingly (but make sure you get at least a few hours of decent sleep each night!) But when there are opportunities to explore, grab yourself a coffee and get out there!
2. Embrace the differences. Upon arriving in England, I definitely experienced some degree of culture shock. To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting to experience this, having reasoned that England and the United States are relatively similar. And while there are similarities, there are absolutely differences that you’ll experience doing everyday things. Riding on public transit is a challenge, for example. Despite the fact that the language is the same, I also found it initially difficult to understand the locals due to a dense accent and unfamiliar British phrases. For the first few days, everyday things felt so difficult. I constantly felt like I was doing everything wrong. But the longer I’ve been here, I’ve adjusted and feel much more comfortable. Each time I find myself in a new situation, I observe what those around me are doing and follow suit. Although new situations are scary, it feels so good to overcome them and learn for the next time. When studying abroad, expect to be challenged. There will undoubtedly be unfamiliar ways of doing things that you will have to adjust to. Be patient, you will catch on quickly!
3. Follow your own agenda. As groups began to break off to explore, I found that everybody had different things they wanted to see. The historical kids headed to museums and landmarks. The artsy kids headed to art museums and craft markets. Then there was me. Having never really traveled beyond the confines of the United States before, I really just wanted to see everything. I quickly latched onto a group and began to sightsee. But after several days, I began to discover that I simply wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see. However, I was too afraid of getting lost to try to navigate on my own. But eventually, I began exploring the town, slowly venturing out further and further. Now that I’m nearing the end of my trip, I’m so glad that I’ve broken off from the group from time to time to do my own thing. I’ve gotten to see so many things that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I know that I only have three weeks here and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to come back, so learning to be independent and trust myself has been incredibly important. If you get the opportunity to travel, don’t feel like you need to do everything with the same group of people. Find others that want to do what you do or even go alone (just be cautious and be sure to go at safe times.)
Hopefully this has encouraged you to take it all in on your own study abroad experience. Remember that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so live it up, expect things to be unfamiliar, and be sure to see what is important to you!