It is so much easier to plan for something that is completely hypothetical. When I was researching study abroad programs a few months ago it was easy to find a school, make my decision, and fall completely in love with my plan. But that was before I was seriously thinking it would be an actual possibility. Now that I’ve met with a faculty advisor at my college to get things rolling it is much more difficult. I had to throw away my initial plan because I’m going with a different program, and I’m fine with that. The initial excitement about the school I had chosen began to wear off as the fear of such a venture started to creep in.
So now I’m on the hunt once again! And now that it’s for real I’m finding it much harder. There are so many things to consider and so many aspects that seem so important. I’m going to apply to a program in which I choose a few school (1st choice, 2nd choice, etc…) and will be placed in one. So no matter how much research I do to choose the perfect school for me (out of about twelve choices in the UK) I might not end up going there. This is both frightening and exciting. There is a sense of fate guiding me to the school that is right for me (I know, this sounds like bs, but I’m going to call it optimism). Still, I’m going to make sure that all of my top three choices will be good places for me.
Apparently I’m kind of picky, because so far I’m finding flaws in all of the schools. One of my number one worries: bars (pubs), drinking, and partying. Every school I look at has at least one bar on campus (some have two or three) and the students all seem to enjoy drinking and partying on a regular basis. I know, this shouldn’t worry me because despite the assumption that all college students in the US party and drink in excess I know this isn’t true. I’ve found my niche at my current college, almost none of my friends party and I’ve never even been offered a drink (although I’m at the point where I do want to experience a college party at least once). This may seem like a rarity, but I know plenty of people who don’t drink and aren’t pressured to. And if I do study in the UK I want to have at least one drink at a pub (“when in Rome”). I want to experience all the culture has to offer, and that includes going to a few parties. But I don’t want to return home after a semester abroad and be complete alcoholic (I know it’s not the most rational fear, but many people in my family have drinking problems, which is the number one reason I’ve stayed away from alcohol my whole life). So, basically, I’m worrying about something that is probably avoidable and will more than likely not be a huge issue. I have a feeling there will be much more unnecessary worrying to come in this process.
As I’m coming to the end of my search (I only have a few days left to decide) I’m really beginning to realize the things that matter to me the most. I can’t avoid the drinking, and every school I’ve looked at seems to have at least a decent English program, so what really matters to me is how easy or hard it is going to be for me to make friends. I think this has always been my number one worry, and probably will be right up until I get there (actually, it will probably continue to be my number one worry right up until I’m back in the US and it’s all over). So the issues that I’m considering most in my decision are housing, orientation, and support for international students. Housing seems to be easy enough to figure out (and helped me cut a few colleges off of my list), but orientation information for spring semester is proving to be difficult. Many schools have great orientations for students studying in the fall, but seem to offer very little for those starting half way through the academic year in the second semester. I’ve searched the websites diligently and scoured the internet, but I’m still not getting all the information I want.
Another aspect which I never even thought of before is actually playing a big role in my decision process: airport pickup. Ok, now I just seem finicky. But really, nothing sounds more scary than getting off of a plane at a major airport in a foreign country, going to a train to take you to the city, then finding a taxi to take you from the train station to the school, and then standing in front of this university with no idea of where to go. Add to this the facts that I’ve never been on a plane before, I’ve never even been in an airport, I’ve never traveled alone, and the most traveling I’ve ever done was a cruise to Baja California with my entire family. So the above scenario is absolutely terrifying to me. The university that has made it to number one on my list claims that they will pick you up from the airport, take you to the school, and help you settle in. Maybe they were exaggerating a bit on their brochure, but it sure does sound better than the alternative.
So, these are the things that are concerning me as I make this important decision. If you are reading this and have studied abroad or are planning to I would love to hear about your challenges and experiences!