A Few Bits of Advice
For those planning on or thinking about studying abroad, I’ve come up with a few bits of advice based on my own experience. Some will be of particular interest to certain groups (other first generation students, students planning on travelling with IFSA-Butler, students interested in Oxford, etc) but others will be more general. Here goes!
- Don’t let money be a deciding factor when choosing whether or not to study abroad. When I first looked at the price tag for a semester abroad at Oxford, it did not look at all possible. Even though all aid from my college is transferable to off-campus programs, the addition of transportation costs, food costs, and the cost of housing over spring break made me think that there was no possible way I could study abroad (at least not in England, one of the most expensive places to live). But I have always wanted to study abroad, and attending Oxford has been my dream, so I started saving all that I could from additional jobs and went to great lengths to find opportunities for scholarships. I was incredibly lucky. With great help from the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation and IFSA-Butler (and Whitman, of course), I was able to fund all costs, from getting my passport, to booking a flight, to covering the program cost itself. There are fantastic organizations offering funding for students in need, and with some serious research and dedication, the whole endeavor can become more and more possible! If you are a first generation college student planning on studying abroad through IFSA-Butler, be sure to apply for their wonderful First Generation Scholarship Program. Another scholarship to try for is the Gilman, which I’ve heard great things about.
- Have the experience you are having, not the one you expected to have. When I imagined attending Oxford, I had some very specific ideas in my head. Some parts were great: deep, intellectual conversations over hot cups of tea, romanticized hours spent reading in architecturally magnificent libraries, formal dinners with posh British friends. Others were not so great: rowdy nights in pubs (where I was the only one sober), terrifying tutors who would humiliate me, formal dinners where it would come to light that I have not the faintest idea of how to practice proper etiquette. In reality, I got a bit sick of tea and intellectual conversations, work in the library is no less tiring if the library is beautiful, and I can’t say I have any British friends. I don’t feel pressured to go to pubs to socialize, but when I have gone, they are actually pretty fun, even from a sober perspective. I’ve had scary tutors, but have gotten through, and I’ve done surprisingly fine at formal dinners (despite once accidentally mixing my bread plate with someone else’s). But more than that, these aren’t even the parts of my experience that became important to me. I’ll remember playing board games, drinking bubble tea (very popular in Oxford), taking lovely day trips, and having long (semi-intellectual, but mostly ridiculous) conversations in my building’s stairwell with (American) friends. Not what I expected, but amazing nonetheless. So my advice here: don’t let what you expect to happen dictate what will happen. The best things about studying abroad are those you don’t expect!
- Take advantage of opportunities!! IFSA-Butler offers many, many incredible trips, information sessions, meals, etc. that are completely included with the cost of your program. Take advantage of them, because there is simply no reason not to! I traveled to London, Bath, Brighton, and the Lake District with IFSA-Butler, and every single trip was wonderful and memorable. Everyone is so friendly, and the locations are lovely.
- Go easy on yourself. Even though it is an amazing experience to study abroad, it can also be very taxing. You are adjusting to a new environment, a new educational system, a new set of people, and sometimes even a new language (I didn’t have this last one, but I did have to get used to the cars driving on the opposite side of the road, so that’s something)–all without your usual support system of friends and family. This is a LOT to handle. If you struggle, accept that. I definitely did struggle, and at first I tried to ignore it was happening, and I tried to work harder academically to get past it. But what really helped was when I started spending more time with other visiting students, and I realized that everyone else was having a hard time too. That made it easier for me to see that what we are all doing is difficult, and we can’t expect to be great at it immediately. The best thing to do is give yourself credit for all that you have accomplished, take some time to take care of yourself, and maybe have a treat! It gets easier as time goes on.
- Take the time to get to know your city. I know a few people who have tried to travel every week, working as hard as possible during the work week so they could visit as many destinations as possible over the weekend. For most, this probably doesn’t even sound financially possible. But for those who can, I would recommend not doing that. I used to envy those with the money and drive to do this, but after speaking to some of them, I’ve realized that most regret not spending more time in Oxford. Apart from being less exhausting and resource-consuming, staying put allows you to make stronger bonds with new friends, explore places that you don’t have time to when finishing essays, and become very familiar with a city (how many times in your life do you get the chance to really get to know a new place??). For those studying in Oxford, I recommend walking through all the colleges–there are over 30, and they are all very beautiful in different ways!–as well as finding a favorite coffee shop (mine is the Organic Deli Cafe, but I also really like Barefoot, which is in Jericho) and frequenting the Gloucester Green market (on Wednesdays you can get delicious vegan momos–Tibetan dumplings–from a stall called Taste Tibet).
Hopefully those tips prove useful to some of you! I should get back to finishing my final essays (‘final’ said with both great relief and a slight bit of melancholy), so I’ll sign off now. I will be leaving Oxford in just under a week…so I’ll have more to say on that soon!