Thursday, December 17, 2015

     I am home!!!!  I loved being in Wales, and enjoyed every moment of it, but am also very happy to be back.  In this, my last blog post, I wanted to share some things I learned while studying abroad.  The point of this blog was to chronicle my adventures AND, perhaps, encourage someone else to study abroad.  It is in the spirit of that second point that I will sharing things I leaned that would have been nice to know before I left. 

     Ask for help:  it is always good to figure things out on your own, but it is fine to ask for help.  Please note:  asking means asking.  In some cultures it is odd to constantly be asking others how they are, so if you need someone be direct.  Most people are willing to help if you need it.

     Police officers are your allies:  feel uncomfortable walking by yourself, waiting for friends in a new area?  Go stand by a police officer.  Explain that you are by yourself.  Unless they are rushing away they should be happy to let you stand by them.  If they are in a hurry, ask for a nearby well-lit area where you can wait.  Will you feel a little dorky?  Yes.  Will you also feel 100% safer?  Yes.

     Learn the vocabulary:  at some point you will say something that makes the "natives" laugh, like:  pants or fanny pack.  Recognize that no one is being mean, ask for clarification, explain how your own culture uses the word/phrase, and then use your new found words to more fully embrace the new culture you are in.

     Meet your instructors:  this is a good idea at home or abroad.   But with a new system it is key that you have a way to understand what is happening.  And, there will likely come a point where you miss class either for travel or sickness.  When that happens, you want the instructor to know who you are.

     Try new things:  you may not love Blood Pudding but may enjoy Haggis.  Don’t let someone else tell you what you will or will not like. Try it for yourself.  Pro-Tip:  want to try something new?  Check the appetizer/starter portion of the menu.  That is the perfect place to find a cheaper/smaller portion to determine whether or not you like something. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for a sample. Not all restaurants can give out samples, but it never hurts to ask. 

     Remember, it's okay to do things from home.  Do you miss Taco Tuesday?  Make tacos!  You don’t have to abandon every normal practice from home just because you are abroad.  Of course you want to be as engaged in your new culture as you can be, but don’t abandon the familiar all together.

     Travel as much as possible:  day trip to a nearby city?  Go for it!  Trains and buses can be very cheap, and often have student deals, so don’t be afraid to go someplace multiple times. 
BUT, remember you can do more than the “touristy” things.  See a cute tea shop?  Pop in and enjoy a pot of tea while watching the world outside. This leads into the next point…
Remember to relax:  you don’t have to be moving 24/7.  At many points, you will have to decide between being a tourist and a traveler.  Tourists run from place to place, see as much as they can, and never stop to breathe.  Travelers see what they want, stop when they want, and go with the flow.  It is more than fine to be a tourist, and if you have more than one day in a city, it is great to play the tourist the first day so you know what you want to come back and see.  BUT, it is also okay, and necessary sometimes, to slow down.  Oftentimes the best experiences you have will be the ones you stumbled upon rather than planned from your guide book. 

     Don't assume that your way of doing things is normal.  Just because you are expected to order from you table at almost every establishment in the states, doesn’t mean that is the same everywhere else.  There are lots of pubs where you are expected to order at the bar.  It’s different, but it is also not an issue.  If you are ever confused about the protocol, ask.   

     Talk to your friends/family:  with modern technology it is easy to stay in contact.  Your parents will feel much more at ease with you traveling if you keep them updated.  Also, remember the world keeps spinning while you are away from home. Stay in contact with friends; you don’t want to miss out on this portion of their lives just because you are abroad.

     Don't focus on friends/family to the point that you miss spending time with new friends.  Having a rough day?  Of course stay in and call your family.  BUT, remember that you can always talk to the new friends that are there with you too.  It can be tempting to focus only on the people you left behind, or only on those you have recently met, but the most enjoyable time will be had when those two focuses are balanced.  It takes some work, but it is worth it.

     Talk to other people about their native cultures:  be honest about what you know and what you don’t.  It is amazing the things you can learn! 

     Answer questions asked of you.  They may be repetitive, like "what are the differences between here and home" but people are asking because they are genuinely interested.  

     Be prepared to have people single you out and make assumptions based on your accent.  Realize it is because they don't know any better, and remember how it makes you feel.  There will come a point when you are not the one with the accent anymore.   So remember that feeling to help others in your future feel more secure. 

     Finally, enjoy every second of your experience.  Whether you are traveling the world or sitting at home with your flat mates, know that this is a once in a life time experience, and savor each and every moment.
     For anyone reading this that wants more information about studying abroad, or more specifically the Brad Henry Scholarship please email me at or contact me via social media (Facebook:  Chandler Steckbeck, Twitter:  @feminist_ace).
     As my final note, I would like to say thank you.  First and foremost a huge thank you to Governor Henry.  Without your generosity this fabulous adventure would not have been possible.  Secondly, to all the faculty and staff, both at NWOSU and at Swansea who have made this trip enjoyable and productive in terms of academic credit.  Finally, a huge thank you to my family:  you have supported me in so many ways while I was away.  I am so thankful that I had this experience, but also very happy to be back with you.

     Thank you to everyone who has followed this blog and my adventure!  Happy Holidays!

No comments:

Post a Comment