JSA: Junior Studying Abroad. This is what I’m referred to here at St. Andrews. It gets kind of old after a while (I mean, I have a name), but it’s a great excuse for any slip-ups that may occur. Got lost in a town consisting of three streets? Sorry, JSA here. Oh, that’s a Euro? Blame it on the JSA. Wait, explain what haggis is please? #JSAproblems.
But now that I’ve been in Scotland for almost two months (which I CANNOT believe!), these slip-ups are becoming less and less frequent and I feel like I can comment with some authority about what life as a study abroad-er is like.
I would love to give you all a taste of what life in St. Andrews is like (look for the sequel!), but for now I’ll just focus on the general aspects of life overseas.
Let’s start at the beginning with travel. If you’re anything like me and have had pretty limited experience with international travel (aka I had zeroooo), it may seem pretty daunting flying half way across the world all by yourself. What I would stress most about travel is being prepared and allowing yourself enough time to move. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes – OK, Amanda, we know to be prepared. But it will really smooth the process. I arrived in London at 6:45 a.m. local time, and was supposed to take off for Edinburgh at 8 a.m.—not the most ideal time frame in which to navigate your half-sleeping self around Heathrow for the first time. You can imagine my frantic, scrambling self running to my gate and making it with literally one minute to spare. If you’re prone to cracking under pressure, make sure you give yourself some time to move.
Unless you plan on packing your entire life and hauling it onto a plane, be prepared to spend some cash the first couple weeks. Clearly you will be spending money with none coming in the whole time you’re gone, but for me the first few weeks were much more expensive then the rest of my time has been. Things that never even crossed my mind when packing I realized I needed as I settled into my hall. Towels. Sheets. Pillows. Hair dryer. Flat iron. Toiletries. Laundry detergent. Fabric softener.The list could go on and on. When it comes to these hair appliances, don’t skimp on buying a quality product. The prices may look scary, but buying something nicer the first time around will save you money in the long run (trust me, I’ve been here 2 months and I’m on my 2nd flat iron. Not pleased).And shop around! I cannot stress this enough. When I first got here I was so anxious to get everything that I bought the first ones I saw, only to find a cheaper, better version at the next store. Additionally, wherever you go there will be an exchange rate and it might not always (or ever) be in your favor. Here in Scotland, life on the pound is much more pricey than life on the dollar. Look into exchange rates before you go so you aren’t shocked once you’re abroad.
Cell phones. If you’re used to your iPhone, Blackberry or Droid, be prepared to say goodbye for a few months. In some cases, for a higher price, you can get these things to work abroad, but your best bet is to buy the 10-pound basic phone and call it a day. Also be prepared for the pay-as-you-go system to make a comeback. Look into monthly phone plans, however, which are much cheaper and way better deals. I purchased unlimited texting within the UK for 5 pounds a month which is MUCH, much cheaper than putting 20 pounds on your phone every 2 weeks to text your friends, especially if you don’t see yourself using your calling minutes. Look at plans and pick the one that works the best for you.
Go to orientation meetings! I arrived a week early to St. Andrews to get settled and acclimated, but also within this time there were several ‘welcome week’ type of meetings, seminars and activities for the new students. Even if you think they are optional do not just try to figure everything out on your own. These activities are a great way for you to meet new people right away. Further on that note, don’t shut yourself off to meeting new people or sticking strictly with other Americans or study abroad students. Meet people from your host country and make friends with 4-year students at your university. Trust me, you’ll miss out on a huge part of the experience if you just stick with people from home.
While you’ll want to meet new people, you’ll still need to be careful. Call me Mother Hen all you’d like, but you have to be aware of the fact that some people might try to exploit the fact that you’re a study abroad student. Further, we all know that Americans have a reputation and some people might want to take advantage of that.
I feel like I could go on for days, and I see this piece already beginning to look like a novel, so I’ll just stop here with one last bit of advice: your school work matters. Shocking, right? Who ever thought you actually had to ‘study’ abroad? There are so many elements of the study abroad experience that you might be inclined to put your studies on the back burner. I would not suggest this. As hard as it is to go sit in lecture or work on that 1500-word essay while your friends are playing soccer on the beach or day-tripping to Edinburgh, don’t let these things slide. I’m not sure about all universities, but at St. Andrews you basically have 3 assignments that make up your grade, sometimes a few more. MUCH different from Purdue where you have homework throughout the semester and projects and tests to balance things out. Yes, while abroad you’re really here for the experience, but don’t lose sight of your studies!
Even though I was told I would, I still haven’t experienced culture shock or been actually homesick (sorry Mom and Dad!). I love everything about life abroad! Granted, some of the things I touched upon may seem pretty common sense, but it’s because for me at least the transition has been so smooth. I hope all of you have studied abroad have had a similar experience, and that all of you planning on going will. Look out for more from me! I’m off to travel Europe for the next two weeks so I will definitely have more to share. Next stop: Germany!