A Little Welsh Wisdom

 

 

When I moved to Cardiff University in Wales for the fall semester of my senior year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some people claim that a study abroad is the best part of your college life, but I never bought into that. I’m a realist: going in with high expectations only sets you up for disappointment. Still, I didn’t quite know what I wanted from my time abroad. Friends and family would ask me why I chose Wales, and while I answered honestly how “the classes fit with my degree” or “I wanted to visit the UK,” my primary reason for picking Cardiff continued to elude me. Perhaps I wanted to go somewhere unexpected, but still within my comfort zone. Or maybe I was intrigued by the idea of travelling to a place alone, as few Northeastern students choose to study at Cardiff University. In the end, my experience in Wales rendered my expectations (whatever they were) completely irrelevant. My three months in Cardiff were by no means the highlight of my life, but they enriched my life in countless unanticipated ways. While it’s impossible for me to condense my experience in writing, here are a few tidbits of wisdom I brought back to Boston.

 

First days are rough, but you can’t let them set the tone.

My first night in Cardiff almost broke me. After a six-hour plane ride, two-hour airport wait, and three-hour bus ride, I finally made it to the university. I didn’t have any other NU students or a study abroad organization to help me navigate Cardiff, so I was pretty much abandoned once the university staff helped me and some other international kids retrieve our room keys. After wandering alone with my fifty-pound suitcase for twenty minutes, I finally found my house. It was eerily quiet since I was the first to move into my flat. My room had no essentials (ahem, no toilet paper), so I needed to find a store before nightfall. I managed to stumble upon a Tesco and grab some supplies and dinner, but I forgot to buy silverware. I had to use Chex Mix bread slices to eat my pre-made couscous, so I was pretty sure I’d hit rock bottom. But I had a bit further to fall—I had no bedding. Using my sole sweatshirt as a pillow, I laid on top the bare dorm mattress, covered myself with a thin sheet packed from home, and shivered myself to sleep from the cold, bothered by the tears of defeat and unpleasant thoughts about my mattress.

 

Four years is nothing

Once I bought bedding and people began moving into my house (House 13, the best in Taly South!), my experience turned around. Since I was living in the equivalent of a freshman dorm, most of my housemates were 18 or 19-year-old first year students. Since we tend to slightly judge people by their age when we’re in college, I anticipated the age difference to be a bit weird. They were just beginning their university lives and had years to look forward to (and to redeem their grades). I was a 22-year-old senior used to living away from home, a tad stressed about moving onto the “real world,” and in no way looking forward to re-living freshman year. But I quickly realized the ridiculousness of my preconceptions. Age certainly shapes the capacity of people’s experiences, but it doesn’t necessarily impact how people connect. (For instance, I may have been the only one who recognized the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody” when it played on the dance floor, but that didn’t stop my housemates from rocking out with me.) My housemates in Cardiff were such an amazing and eclectic group. Genuinely, they were some of the most hilarious, compassionate, fun, fascinating, industrious, and original people I’ve met. (I’m a bit jealous that they still have three more years to spend together.)  My stress and anxieties may have differed from theirs, but that didn’t change how much I enjoyed their company. In fact, their friendship kept me from drowning in the stress, frustration, and tears that come with studying in a foreign place.

 

Youth is fleeting

As much as I loved my nights out (and my nights in) with House 13, it only took me a week to remember that I am not invincible. “Freshers’ Week,” a UK university tradition during which there are parties every night before classes start, ruined me. There’s a little thing called the “Freshers’ Flu” and I barely made it a week before contracting it. “Freshers’ Flu” reminded me that I am no longer a fresher—I’m only getting older, so I better make sure I’m taking care of myself. Sometimes you need to sit out on the fun for your own health and sanity. (Plus, UK Netflix has a lovely selection.)

 

Enjoy life’s pauses

At times I felt strangely distanced from my life in Boston, as if I had dropped all of my typical responsibilities and was suspended in time, in an alternate universe. I felt a weird sense of guilt in that I was a senior basically reliving freshman year. Unlike my previous fall semesters, I wasn’t working or applying for co-ops—I had a lot of free time outside of classes. While I needed to prepare for graduation, find an apartment, and apply to jobs (basically, figure out the rest of my life), I was distracted by the fact that I was having a blast in Cardiff, watching my flat mates yell obscenities at the house next to ours through a traffic cone someone had stolen the night before. After a month or so, I realized my guilt was silly—I deserved to enjoy my time in Wales! My study abroad was one of the last opportunities to appreciate college life. I had to remind myself to embrace the pause in my life, the lack of responsibilities, and not ruin it by worrying about the future I can’t control.

 

When in doubt, nod and say “yeah”

This is what I did whenever I couldn’t understand my flat mates’ Welsh and York accents. However, I’m not condoning pretending to be engaged in conversations—I’m a firm believer in clear communication (and also, my flat mates caught on to my behavior and ridiculed me relentlessly). What I mean is that when you’re in an unfamiliar yet exciting situation, it’s important to be open to new experiences. Go to new places, try new foods, speak to new people. It’s normal to be nervous about living in a new place. Having a routine similar to the one you followed back home certainly calms some nerves, but don’t confine yourself to the same old experiences. Say yes to new outings and excursions, even if you don’t quite know what you’re in for. I suppose that encapsulates my study abroad experience in a nutshell.