I've traveled a lot. When I was younger, I went around Europe and South America, and have visited a decent amount of countries for my age, but the one place I had not been before this recent Spring semester, was England.
I'm an English major. Naturally, England is a place that I've wanted to travel to for years, probably ever since I opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's (although I should probably say Philosopher's) Stone. I'll admit that, no shame.
Being accepted to Study Abroad at the University of Surrey in England was a literal dream come true, and the experiences connected with that are too far and vast to recount here. In the weeks before arriving, I've never dealt with such a combined influx of excitement and nerves in my life. Of the five months that I was there, the nerves gave way to excitement, and the excitement gave way to…normality. I was not only studying there—I was living there. And although I adjusted, I never fully forgot that I was a foreigner, and as a result, I was constantly aware of how amazing the entire experience was. There were also some hard to not notice differences—the amount of international people, with dozens of students ranging from Brazil to China walking comfortably around the campus. The level of reading and writing that was involved from my studies. One book a week for each class, and the total lack of reassurance that such books were being read, save for the one final exam at the end of the semester. The fact that there was a bar on the campus. All of these things were so different, eye opening, and incredible, and to each of these things, I grew accustomed, even to the fact that London, one of the most major cities in the world, was a short train ride away.
I absolutely adored this experience. It is a rare and truly great opportunity to be able to say you lived in a foreign country, and, as a writer in particular, I drank in England's atmosphere. The accents, the varying cultures, the history, even the fact that there was a decrepit old castle in the town where my university was. That's not something you find here in Orlando (Universal's Hogwarts, unfortunately, does not count), and it's something that was easy to get used to, and even easier to miss once gone. People are not exaggerating when they say Studying Abroad is life-changing. It is, and for the better. If someone asked me whether I would do it again, I wouldn't even have to think about my answer.
An automatic yes, ten times over, in a heartbeat, yes.
The University of Surrey was always going to be my first choice of a place to study, not solely because of its excellent teaching and location, but also because it was one of the few universities that gave me the opportunity to simultaneously explore two of my greatest passions– Literature and Travelling. This opportunity manifested itself not only inside the lecture theatre but also outside of those walls too. The chance for a year studying abroad was the connection between my two passions; the thought of exploring a new culture whilst still immersed in education was to me ideal. Whilst at Surrey I have been able to combine my ever-growing desire to explore new corners of the world whilst maintaining a focus on my degree, as the classes I choose to take will ultimately mould my career. Studying at the University of Central Florida (UCF) wasn’t just perfect because of the beautiful weather, the local pool and the palm trees (although that all helped); it was perfect because of the exposure it gave me to literature and life itself in a new context.
Moving to a new country, a foreign land where your norms no longer exist, doesn’t just involve the physical movement from continent to continent across numerous varying time zones, but rather – and perhaps most importantly - a change in your perspective and assimilation to a new way of life. I quickly found myself readjusting to a new climate, teaching style and even found that the mediation of social interactions had to be reconfigured. Americans don’t necessarily tend to understand the stand- offish nature inherent to most Londoners. So whilst I was pushed outside of my comfort zone, I had to remind myself that this was not only an environment that I chose to put myself in, it was an environment that I should and could learn from in both academic and non-academic terms. This was as much a personal journey as it was an educational one.
As I was privileged enough to have free rein when selecting my classes, I chose again to venture out of my comfort zone. Choosing classes in ‘Anthropology’ alongside others such as ‘Women Writers of Colour’ and ‘Harlem, Haiti and Havana’ exposed me to differing schools of thought and differing ideas on culture. I was bombarded with different cultures again both inside and outside of the classroom, and it was this varied collection of experiences that for me typified what my time in Florida was.
UCF presented me with the chance to dive head first into American culture (cue the football, basketball and baseball games, UCF traditions and of course American food!). It gave me opportunities to discuss my own international experiences in local high schools, sit in on symposiums with international speakers, and progress in my studies - all under the care of insightful tutors, kind mentors and new-found friends. If my international year abroad has taught me one thing, it is that when opportunities arise, no matter how varied or unlike ones you’ve ever come across, grab them with both hands, as you will most likely never be in that same place again.