Post Study Abroad: Getting a Big Fat “F”

I am one of those people who is crazy when it comes to grades.  I know a letter doesn’t mean everything in the scheme of things but, well, to me they matter. Since going to school is my job, grades are like performance reviews and, I can get a little cray cray when someone tries to mess with them. With this in mind, imagine my surprise when yesterday I saw a copy of my transcripts from England and, there was a big fat F in one of the classes. Uh…what? Uh…WHAT?

You see, if there is one thing that has the power to destroy me, it is my grades. Almost every major meltdown in my life has involved a little alphabetic character that gets printed on my transcripts and then promptly forgotten the next year. When that little alphabetic character is an F though – things get real.

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I knew the grade was a mistake because I knew that I had put a lot of effort into my assignment (and I have a 3.73 GPA – I don’t do slacking) but, despite this, I found myself calling my mom and exploding in tears. I am not a big crier, instead I store up little things in my brain for months and then KABOOM! – a tear explosion, a tsunami of emotion crashing into whoever is lucky enough to be in the vicinity.

I am so entirely and completely stressed out in trying to get these study abroad credits to transfer. I left England in December but, despite my constant insistence, the transcripts still aren’t here and, it was only just yesterday (four months later) that I got a copy of my grades. I need those credits to graduate, and I am chomping at the bit to get this transfer thing done and over with.

An F isn’t going to cut it for me (because I know I earned an A or a B) or for graduation requirements (failing grades don’t count towards total credits), which means a lot of work to get the issue straightened out before May, which is especially difficult since DMU and I are on completely different continents. It’s not like I can drive there.

What happened to being a kid and staying in my pajamas all day eating Frosted Flakes? For all its  benefits, being an adult can be hard freaking work sometimes. All I want to do is say screw this and go rock climbing instead but, I’ve been an adult long enough now to know that’s not how it works.

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We’ve got to keep trudging through the hard parts to get to the good parts – if we give up and stop when it’s hard, we’ll never make it to the sunshine, we’ll be stuck in a big mud puddle forever.  It’s a good thing I’ve got my rain boots – I’ll need them until the sky clears.

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So, You Want to Study Abroad? – 10 Tips For Studying Abroad

It’s weird to think that it was only last month that I was living in England. Now, I am back in my old room in my parents” house in the US, wondering if the whole study abroad thing was just a dream.

It sounds dumb but four weeks after the fact, it feels like it has been a year since I left England. This time last year, I was just beginning to plan my trip and, lately I’ve been thinking about what I would tell future study abroad students based on my experience.

ten tips to study abroad

1. Being scared is completely normal. I remember talking to my international friends and being surprised by how many of them admitted to being scared out of their mind like I was before going to England.

2. Culture shock is real. For some reason, I thought because I spoke English, I would be immune to culture shock. Wrong-o. Even if you are going to a country where you know the language, be prepared to feel out of your element in more ways than one.

3. Patience is a necessity. The planning for my study abroad trip took nine months. Trust me, there will be a lot of hiccups and problems, and you have to be prepared to deal with them diplomatically.

you will survive without your clothes

4. You will survive without your entire closet. The idea of only taking one suitcase to England was mind-boggling to me but, I survived three months on a wardrobe that fit into one (XL) bag.

5. Take responsibility for planning your own study abroad trip. If your parents plan your entire trip, how are you going to know what to do when you get to the airport in a foreign place with no idea what has been planned or where you should go? Taking responsibility of planning is a good way to get into the study abroad mindset (where you will won’t have mom and dad to do everything for you).

6. Studying abroad is probably going to be the hardest experience of your life. People have a tendency to glamorize study abroad once they are home but as a precaution, it’s going to be tough at times. At some point, you are going to miss home, your friends and family, and you might find yourself obsessing over how much you miss one dollar bills or crying because the oven is in Celsius not Fahrenheit (ahem).

7. Studying abroad is probably going to be the most life-changing experience of your life. Once you get through the tough parts (see #6), study abroad is going to change the person you are and the person you eventually become. There is no way you can live in a foreign country and not come back changed and, likewise, people are going to change in your absence. This is normal and healthy.

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8. It’s okay to ask questions. Your study abroad coordinator has been through this process with a million students. Ask as many questions as you need even if you think you are stupid. This includes things like “Do I need a visa?” and extends to things like “Is the area I will be living in safe?”.

9. Talk to your parents. If your parents are like mine, they were surprised when I told them I was planning to study abroad. Communicate with your parents even before you leave your home-country. Reassure them. Be nice to them. Their child is leaving them for several months for another country, they are probably as scared as you are.

10. Appreciate every moment. This is more of a life tip, I guess. In study abroad or anything in life, I feel most complete and satisfied when I take time to appreciate each moment. Even when your visa is delayed or your host-family hasn’t answered your carefully worded email, look for the good. You have an opportunity that many dream about so appreciate it and don’t waste time sulking.

Do you have any study abroad tips?

After Study Abroad: Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture-shock is a doozy. I mean, it seems crazy that you can be disoriented when you go back to the place you have lived your entire life. But currently, I am living it.

It’s not  that I am rolling around all day crying over England, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. While I feel like I’ve changed, it’s as if after coming back to the same place, it seems like I haven’t even blinked. Sometimes, it feels like the past three months were just a dream.

reverse culture shock

I still have three weeks until classes start, so I guess by the time the semester starts, I’ll be fully acclimated to being back in the US. I can definitely vouch that it isn’t a piece of cake though.

There have been a few things specifically that have been throwing me off my game:

1. Missing my study abroad friends. I was very close with my international friends because we did almost everything together. Since I am only working two days a week right now, I am having trouble filling up my free time, which makes me really miss the faces who filled my days the past few months.

2. Paying for gas. Wait – you mean I have to pay for that stuff that makes the car go? Bummer. No more places to walk anymore.

3. Working. Lucky for me, I really like my job but being back in the office is disorienting. The last time I was at work it was summer so, when I walked outside after work the first time back, I entirely expected it to be 90 and sunny. It was a bit of a shock when it was 30 and windy.

4. Home friends. Things have changed for a lot of my friends since I was gone. For one, a lot of them have graduated and, most of them don’t live near me. Not to a bummer, but after spending so much time with my international friends, it’s a little lonely.

5. Shopping. I still can’t help but multiply prices by the conversion rate even though in my mind I know it’s dollars and not pounds. Not having to spend almost double for every one currency is definitely a nice change on my bank account.

6. Talking about being abroad. I find myself not really wanting to talk about study abroad to most people. That seems bizarre, but I just find it really hard to relate so much in such a small amount of words. It’s almost like I know in my head, I can’t do the experience justice in just a short part of a conversation.

7. What do I do now? Study abroad was like an endless sea of possibility. I think it’s natural to come home and feel like…now what? 2013 was all about going to England and now that it’s over, it’s like I dropped my kid off at college and, now, I’ve got to figure out what to do with my time.

If study abroad taught me anything, it’s that I’ve got to keep pushing myself. This time last year, I was visiting my school’s study abroad page for the very first time. Now the question is – what’s the goal for 2014? 

My England Video: Three Months in Four Minutes

When I decided that I wanted to study abroad in January of this year, I knew I wanted to document it. The first thing I videotaped was me holding up the study abroad application in my dorm room in February 2013. Seven months later, I was taping my parents driving me to the airport.

This video has been a lot of work and time over the past three months, and I am really proud of the result. It always feel pretentious to me when I am really content with something I have created, but this video came out exactly as I wanted.

So, here is three months of studying abroad at De Montfort University in Leicester, England in four minutes:

Too Much Stuff!: 10 Things After Coming Home After Study Abroad

After three months in England, I am back in the good ol’ United States of America. After 15 hours of traveling, I got off my plane at the airport, listened to the customs police chastise people for using their cellphones, and found my parents waiting for me.

Being back is normal yet weird at the same time. It’s not so much the big things, but the little ones that have been throwing me through a loop. My mind is just boggled by things like being able to have lukewarm water instead of only boiling hot or freezing cold, or how big the refrigerator is compared to the one in my old flat.

In particular, these are the things that have been on my mind since I’ve been home…

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1. I am overwhelmed by all the stuff in my old bedroom. After having such a limited number of items to choose from for three months, the idea that I can pick from thirty different shirts instead of the same ten I wore for three months is overwhelming.

2. Driving again was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I thought I would have trouble after being driven on the left side of the road for so long, but as soon as I started the engine, I was instantly at ease.

3. After living in my flat with paper thin walls, I keep forgetting I can actually make noise without waking up the whole house. Watching a video on my laptop without headphones for the first time in twelve weeks felt very strange.

4. I feel very overwhelmed after returning. It’s like stuff that I have done my whole life should feel easy, but then I find myself struggling to remember the most basic things like setting the oven to Fahrenheit instead of Celsius.

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5. It’s so nice to have the sun come up earlier and go down later again. When I left, the sun came up in England at 8:10 a.m. and went down at 3:50 p.m. In Maryland, the sun comes up at 7:20 a.m. and goes down at 4:40 p.m. That’s almost two more hours of sun a day!

6. It’s odd to be back in my original time zone. It also sucks because now any correspondence with the US has to be done in a timely manner versus having five hours of leeway.

7. It’s hard to know how much to talk about England. I definitely don’t want to be the snobby study abroad girl who only talks about study abroad, but it’s hard because that was literally my life for the past three months.

8. I don’t miss England as much as I thought I would. It probably helps that I know the majority of my friends are gone too, so it’s not really the same England as I left behind.

9. Jet lag has been steamrolling over me. All I want to do is sleep and sleep and sleep. I’ve gone to bed at 9 p.m. and woken up at 5-6 a.m. every day for the past three days and, I’ve taken naps too. I’ve just felt so tired. (It probably doesn’t help that I barely slept my last week in England).

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10. I just can’t believe three months ago I was writing my ten observations after my first day in England post. It feels almost like a dream now.

What’s the hardest thing for you after returning after a long vacation or studying abroad?

Goodbye England

By the time you are reading this, I will be on a plane back to the United States. Saying goodbye to my friends last night was tougher than I expected (i.e. unexpectedly crying more than when I left for the US when I got back to my room) but, when I woke up this morning I felt a little better. Like I said in my post about my international friends, we can choose to be sad that we are saying goodbye or we can be happy that we met and had so much fun together.

departures sign

I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. and got the rest of my stuff together. I said goodbye to the last of my friends, who were gracious enough to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to say goodbye to me. Then, I got in a taxi and went to the bus station.

leicester bus station

After a two and a half hour trip to Heathrow, I checked my bags, went through security, and was surprised to find an EAT. I thought I would never see another EAT turkey cranberry sandwich again, but luck shined down on me. I got a fruit cup too. How did I forget how awesome mango and kiwi was?

I was very sad they didn’t have a Costa in my terminal so; I had to settle with coffee from Pret.

eat turkey cranberry sandwichpret coffee

I spent the last of my pounds on a book, Gone Girl, to read on the plane (I broke my Kindle last week – I am still in mourning). I’ve read good reviews, so hopefully it gets me through the next eight hours that I am going to be sardined into my airplane seat.

british airways

England, it’s been real. Thanks for the tea and biscuits but, I am glad to be going back to a country where I can say “bathroom” instead of “toliets”.

Cheers.

10 Things I Love(d) About England | #10 – Change

When I started this series, I knew this the post that I wanted to write. The thing I love(d) most about being in England was being in England. This experience wasn’t easy for me. It was freaking hard as hell some days, and I have so many journal pages speculating why I decided to come here. But, despite it all, I never desperately wanted to go home, not really.

Yes, I was homesick at times, but it was never to the degree that I wanted to pack up my bags and just leave. I have made a home in my tiny little room in Leicester, England. I have made friends who feel like family. I have rowed in a boat and listened to Big Ben chime. I saw the Eiffel Tower and, I got on a plane on my own and came to a place I knew nothing about.

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The person that I am now isn’t the person that I was when I came here. Maybe I am growing up or maybe all it takes is an ocean between you and your home to make you reevaluate who you are.

I am sad writing this. I am sad because I know this leg of my journey is ending. I am sad to leave behind this place that has, in so many ways, come to define me and the person I will become.

When I leave here tomorrow, I am leaving so much baggage behind. Stupid things that mattered for so long…just don’t anymore. It’s like living here, on my own, has taught me, in some degrees, to let go.

glastonburytor

So, yes. I am sad to leave behind this place, but I am also so incredibly, over-the-moon happy that I got to come. I have seen so much and learned so much. I got to live my dream to live in Europe. How many people get to live their dream at 20 years old?

I don’t know what is ahead of me. I’m graduating college in six months. My future is uncertain. I don’t know where I’ll end up, and that’s okay. I would have never pictured myself here a year and a half ago. Life has a tendency of leading me places I didn’t think I would ever go.

There’s a quote I’ve been thinking about lately – “Nothing is worth more than this day.” Translation: Don’t waste your present by looking back at your past. I won’t spend the next few weeks crying over England. I’ll be sad, maybe even homesick, but I won’t let myself lament over what could have been, what is behind me.

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If being here has taught me anything it’s that, I have to keep moving forward. There is so much to see if you look for it. There are strangers that will become friends, family, romantic interests. Only we can stop ourselves from standing still. Go out and see the world, even if it is just your slice of it. Life cannot be lived from the comfort of your own bedroom. But most importantly, believe in yourself. You are capable of just about anything.

Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to England. There will probably be tears, just like when I left the US, but it’s different this time. Goodbye is unavoidable. It reminds us that change is imminent. It removes us from our comfort zone. But as I say my goodbyes, I can’t help but smile in a way.

My journey isn’t ending just because I leave England. On the contrary, it is just beginning.