First off: If you caught the reference in this title, ten points to your Hogwarts house of choice. [Slytherin represent!]
In all seriousness, over the five months I’ve spent here, several people have asked me questions about being away from Texas. I actually expected them to ask international students here for the full three years, but I’m not complaining. Free topic of conversation, right? As someone who often struggles to know exactly what to bring up since our cultures are so different, I’ve actually really loved having my new friends ask about home. It does get difficult, being away so long, but it’s nothing compared to those who are going to be gone for three years or more.
That said, a fair few of my friends have been shocked that I chose to study for a year instead of a term. Some were surprised I came abroad at all, but frankly, I couldn’t pass it up. Are you one of the folks who might consider taking a term or year abroad but just aren’t sure yet? Let me lay it down for you. Here is the interview version of a conversation I’ve had with my classmate:
Q: Isn’t it scary to be somewhere you don’t know?
A: Well, yes. But that’s coming from someone who naturally over-thinks and worries about things. I definitely struggle with things sometimes – especially food. Seriously, the food is the biggest difference, but it isn’t all bad, I promise.
Q: How long did it take you to get to a point where you felt “adjusted” to the culture here?
A: Um, a week? I came to Brighton a week early and talked to the woman at The Artist Residence, where my parents and I stayed, and she was a huge help. She told us how the buses worked, which ones went where, and pointed us in the direction of the banks. Some banks were more helpful than others, unfortunately, but just asking for help was a huge time saver.
Q: So, what’s the issue with the food?
A: Look, if I could get my hands on southern biscuits or chicken-fried anything, I’d be perfectly happy. But I’ll settle for some jammin’ fish and chips. I can live without southern food until June. Probably. Guess we’ll find out.
This is what a biscuit looks like. It is perfection.
Q: What’s been the most irritating thing?
A: I really don’t like being told I’m saying things wrong. I know there are cultural differences, even when it comes to vocabulary, but oh my gosh. People love to correct the foreign girl. And it’s been helpful, admittedly, but even though I know how to say a word as my British friends would, I only ever do it on accident. If I were to call my best friend back home saying, “Heya, mate. Have you ever given beans on toast a go? It’s proper rubbish!” – I mean, she would probably disown me. I’m okay with understanding it and moving on.
Q: Biggest cultural difference?
A: Genuinely, Americans (at least the ones I’ve met!) do not party half as much as people here do. I don’t know if Britons thing that it’s all we do, though I would believe it thanks to Hollywood and television, but it isn’t the case at all. If you live in the south, you go out dancing, not clubbing. Typically country dancing or swing dancing. We also don’t drink as much or put much stock in (pause. Is that a British phrase? If not, it means we don’t “offer praise for”) how many people someone has dated or done anything else with. We hardly even talk about it. So that was a thoroughly embarrassing topic of conversation at the beginning. I’m not sure, but I’m thinking it may not be the best thing ever that I’m able to listen to that sort of talk without wanting to leave the room, now.
At any rate, there may be frightening or confusing things like the ones I mentioned above, but there are so many perks to being an international student that aren’t fully registered while just contemplating a trip abroad. Even if it’s just for a semester, it’s in your best interest to consider it. Employers actually prefer people who have studied abroad, because they had to learn to exist without parents to save them or anyone they know from home to step in and help.
Students who study abroad are well-rounded, have seen more of the astounding sights that our world has to offer, and are bound to have friends all over the world, as I am proud to say I now do. Is it scary? Oh yeah. And the homesickness is real. But going back home, even if it’s just for holiday, is probably the best feeling in the world.
I was picked up at the airport over holiday by a friend, and I genuinely wanted to cry when I saw the UT Austin tower over the hill. It was sunset, the traffic was insane because it was nearly Christmas, and it was perfect.
An hour later, I was regaling my friends with stories of Brighton and I ached to be back. I miss home already, and everyone that I will be away from until June. But I’m leaving soon for a road trip around the south of England with a friend from home and it’s going to be astounding.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. – Mark Twain
Lindsay Howard is a 4th year International student from the University of Texas, Austin. She is studying an English major, with minors in Communications and Sociology.