On 19 August, I'll be leaving England to spend a year studying abroad at Washington College, located on America's East Coast in the State of Maryland. Almost two years in the planning, it's guaranteed to be one of my most memorable experiences. And whilst studying abroad can pose lots of concerns and questions, nearly every person I have spoken to about it has called it the year of their life. So as I sit typing this just over a week before my flight to Washington D.C., here are my final thoughts before departure, why I'm going, and what I hope to achieve.
As an American Studies student with a strong focus on politics and history, I plan to write my dissertation on past and present U.S. Presidential elections. Studying abroad means I'll be living a stone's throw from the USA's capital and (Capitol) during the entire Presidential election season, able to take in every speech, rally and debate. How many people get the chance to live through and fully immerse themselves in the subject they are writing their dissertation about?
Outside of that, I hope the next year introduces me to all the great things studying abroad can lead to; new friends, new cultures, new languages, new cuisines, and a new perspective on life. I'll be travelling around the East Coast to play Varsity soccer, taking classes in political history, visiting friends in other states, and much, much more. The American college experience is so famously unique, and I hope to sample as much of it as I can.
Naturally though, it's a terrifying prospect. Leaving everything I know behind for a year (or more) and starting afresh is a huge step. Making an entire new set of friends all over again and being away from my loved ones will not be an easy task. But it's only a year, and I'm hoping to be having so much fun that it hardly crosses my mind; other international students will be in exactly the same boat. Of course, it'll also push me to be independent, test myself in the "real world" and even give me the chance open up career windows. Having an entire set of contacts in a second country outside of the UK could come in very handy indeed.
When you tell someone you're studying abroad, you usually get the same reaction: "Wow, you're so lucky, I wish I could do something like that!" And it's remarkably true. The very fact you can spend a prolonged amount of time earning some/all of your degree in a different part of the world is an incredible opportunity. Promisingly, due to its increase in popularity in recent years, studying abroad is more accessible than ever, with most universities charging no more than 50% of their standard UK tuition fees for the entire year. With so many places to choose from, there's a location to suit every budget, and in normal circumstances you'll still get your student loan. With the knowledge that you won't be going until your 3rd year of university, you'll have ample time to save up some cash; cost doesn't have to be the bugaboo that it often is!
I think it's really important to make the most of a year abroad. I've been told it flies, but the opportunities, advantages and great memories show their face every day - it's just up to us to take them. In a year's time, I hope to be able to write a post saying just how much my year abroad lived up to everything I dreamt it would be. I guess it's up to me to take advantage of everything that comes my way in the next 12 months, and embrace every second. Once I've arrived in Washington, this blog will host frequent updates on my time across the pond, both in and out of the classroom, so be sure to check back once in a while!