Zoe Rogers, ‘Doah Staff Writer
April 30, 2014
It has been over eight months since I travelled 3,368 miles from my hometown in Northern Ireland to begin my American college experience here at Shenandoah University. The beginning of that journey looked like this: a completely bewildered Northern Irish girl standing in Dublin airport, hugging her family goodbye, having absolutely no idea what awaited her on the other side of that eight-hour flight. There were tears involved. Okay, fine, I was sobbing uncontrollably.
Fast-forward and the end of that whirlwind journey looks like final exams, packing up my dorm room and saying goodbye to the people who have made S.U. feel like my second home. Queue more shameless sobbing.
Back in August, before I left for the USA, I had a lot of things on my mind. Had I made the right decision, to leave my family and friends? Had I remembered to pack my travel kettle? (I’m Irish. We need tea like we need oxygen.) But mostly, would my year studying abroad be anything like I expected it to be? Spoiler: it wasn’t.
From the age of fifteen, I had visited almost ten states in the USA on family holidays before I was even given the opportunity to study here on scholarship. I had talked to people who had already gone through the experience of studying in an American college. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, turns out I was way off. Expectations unfulfilled can either lead to disappointment or pleasant surprise. My time at S.U. has been a healthy mixture of both. I quickly realized that studying abroad wasn’t about confirming my expectations; it was about challenging them. When I chose to do that, my experience was so much better than anything I could have dreamed up!
So, in the spirit of reflection, here a few key lessons studying abroad has taught me. First, the power of snail mail should never be underestimated. Second, never expect your travels to go to plan. (I’m now a veteran of delayed flights, broken down buses and credit card complications.) Third, there is no better cooking than your mother’s cooking. Fourth, being able to pack your life into one suitcase is actually pretty liberating (and much easier on your wallet.) And, finally, you think you know exactly who you are until you move somewhere where absolutely no one knows you.
At the risk of sounding like I just swallowed a book of motivational quotes, here are some pieces of advice I would offer to students preparing to study abroad. Be prepared for a challenge; don’t be fooled by flawless Instagram pictures and well-edited travel video montages. It isn’t always going to be picture perfect, but then nothing great comes easy. Don’t compare your experiences to that of others; it will look nothing like the next persons and that’s okay! When you face cultural differences, remember, it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. Travel as much as possible, meet people that are nothing like you and, ultimately, make the most of every moment (good, bad, or ugly!)
Studying abroad has pushed me out of my comfort zone; taught me more about myself; taken me to new places and introduced me to people, from all around the world, who have become friends for life. So much has changed since that day I waved goodbye to my family and lined up to go through airport security. Now the next time I go through airport security, I’ll be leaving behind my “second-home” here at S.U.