Melanie, England, ISEP Academic Year 2005-2006
What was your motivation to travel abroad?
I graduated from MSU and I wanted to explore the world a bit before I committed to a "real" job.
How did you fit everything you needed into your suitcase?
I used those vacuum seal bags, whereby you shove all your sweaters or whatnot into the bag, insert a vacuum hose, suck the air out and spend the rest of your year overseas trying to get the wrinkles out. I also brought shoes and towels that I could leave there, so I could fill my suitcase with souvenirs on the return trip.
What are some things you're glad you brought and some things you wished you would have left?
Extra socks and underwear are nice. Don't pack too many clothes. Granted, you don't want to look like a homeless person, but you don't need to look like you stepped out of a magazine, either. You're foreign-you're supposed to look a bit strange. I was thankful for my umbrella and a digital camera and laptop are must-haves. I wish I would have taken photographs of my home and town where I lived in the US.
What were your experiences with culture shock? How did you deal with it?
England is very similar to America insofar as culture, language and customs go. Most of the differences were more amusing than ‘shocking.' I was called a ‘Yankee,' several times. Driving on the opposite side of the road was heart-stopping at times. I found if you're polite and interested, culture shock isn't a huge problem.
What was your biggest adjustment?
I didn't have a vehicle, so breaking the American mindset of having to drive everywhere was a bit of an adjustment. I quickly figured out the bus schedules and became a very fast walker.
How did you keep in touch with your family and friends back in the US?
I began a blog to post my stories and share my pictures with friends and family back home. The site is still active if you want to look. There are some good stories! I also kept a personal diary. http://shuttletydirium.spaces.live.com (September 2005 to May 2006).
What was the biggest surprise that you noticed about our country when you came home?
The first thing that struck me was the abundance of American flags. We are much more patriotic that European countries. I also forgot all about sales tax. In England, the price on the item is the amount you dole out at the check -out.
How did you share your experiences when you came home?
I brought home lots of English goodies to share with friends and families. When I came home, I began teaching. The junior high geography teacher asked me to do a presentation on England. I also directed people to my blog.
Was it worth it?
This is an opportunity you'll perhaps never have again. Your university years are the perfect time to explore the world and there's no easier or cheaper way than through a study abroad program. Do it before you're tied down with a career and a family. Also, going during university means you can take advantage of all the great student discounts.
Advice or a quote for future students.
When you get there, keep things in perspective. You're only there for a few months. Make the most of your time! Don't waste half your year sitting in your room feeling sorry for yourself or crying on the phone to your mom about how different everything is. Go out and explore! Find some other international students. Buy a train ticket somewhere. Don't wait until the last few months to experience the country.
One more thing...
Be willing to try new things. The "American" way isn't always the best. There's nothing more annoying than someone who won't stop talking about how things are done "back at home." Have an open mind and a respectful attitude.