I (somewhat naively) thought before I arrived in the US that it probably wouldn’t be very different to the UK. Because we speak the same language, and because I’ve been very exposed to America through popular culture, I presumed it wouldn’t be a big deal. I was wrong! Obviously it depends where you go. NYC, for example, is somewhat similar to London, but if you go from home in Edinburgh to Colorado, there’s many a difference! Everything in the US is SO, SO, BIG. I’m talking supermarkets way bigger than Tesco Extra, with offers like 10 for $10. Walking from one end of the store to the other is a workout in itself. Also, (now I don’t wish to generalise here but it’s just the truth) Americans tend to have a bit of a different sense of humour. Be prepared for favourite TV shows like Peep Show to be under-appreciated and misunderstood.
I can’t stress enough how beneficial this is! It’s easy to feel very lost when you first arrive, especially when you have no idea about the surroundings. Getting in touch with a local beforehand is so handy and reassuring because they can help you with things like how to get to your new place from the airport, where the nearest shop is, which bank is best for students, etc. Plus, it’s great to have a buddy to show you around in your first few days. You won’t know any of the good places to eat, so you’ll end up in McDonald’s or another chain, when you could be fine dining in a local restaurant! The best way, I think, to become absorbed in the culture quickly is to speak to someone beforehand who can be your pal when you arrive. It’s so tempting to just hang out with the other people from Sussex, and while that’s great, you should also try and branch out.
I know quite a few people who, for some reason, think it’s embarrassing or weak to be homesick when you start on a year abroad. It really isn’t! Trying to pretend you’re fine is neither healthy nor necessary. 99% of people will be sympathetic and understanding of homesickness. Not only have you left home buy you’ve moved to another country, perhaps continent. It would be more odd if you didn’t miss home! Talking about it can be super helpful, don’t bottle it up.
To link with the previous piece of advice, if you are missing home, I would advise that you actually don’t Skype home for the first couple of weeks. It’s really tempting to do so and you may think it’ll help, but it’s likely to make you sadder. You’ll see your parents and your house, the people you are most comfortable around in the most familiar setting and it’ll probably just remind you of how unsure you are. If you really can’t resist Skyping, and you have a dog at home, then do not let your parents include him/her in the call. Excessive, uncontrollable tears will ensue.
5) It may sound obvious/cheesy/whatever but make the most of this amazing opportunity!
You can make the most of your year abroad in so, so many different ways. Whether it’s something like joining a swing dance or craft club, or deciding to try skiing for the first time (that’s my personal ‘must-do’ whilst I am in Colorado), you really should just do as much as you can. If you’re studying in Europe then try and go to a few other countries; try the cuisine, go and see the sights. If you’re in the US then for goodness sake go to another state than the one you’re studying in. Having the opportunity to live and spend time in another country is rare – in the future you may have the time to travel but you may not have the money, or maybe you do have the money but you’re tied down with other obligations. Study abroad really is a once in a lifetime chance and I know that may sound cliché but it’s a fact. So next time someone asks you if you wanna go on a trip to a national park nearby, or to a cool museum they know and you’re about to decline because Season 3 of Orange is the New Black is calling your name, then maybe think twice!
Lily Whitcombe is a third year American Studies student on a Study Abroad programme at the Univeristy of Colorado, Boulder, USA.