“I wish I knew…before studying abroad,” is a common phrase coming from study abroad alumni.
Studying abroad has its perks, but many students look back on their experience wishing they knew more before traveling to a foreign country. Though QU has meetings to prepare students for going abroad, some things do not prepare you for the culture shock until you actually experience it for yourself.
First and foremost- you will experience a culture shock, even in places like the UK and Ireland where they speak English. Speaking from firsthand experience, the first couple of days are probably the most difficult. Everything is smaller, the accents are different, and the streets and the buildings are completely different from what you’re used to. However, it does get better once you start meeting new people and get used to the new surroundings.
Money is the number one issue for most American students studying abroad, especially in the UK and in Europe.
“At the pre-departure meetings, I wish the people were more honest about how expensive it is when you are abroad,” said Alex Guastaferro, a junior health sciences major who studied abroad last semester in Cork, Ireland. “It ended up costing way more than people made it out to be.”
Compared to the British pound sterling and the Euro, the dollar has a weak exchange rate. One pound is equal to about $1.50, and one euro is equal to around $1.30. Especially for students who study in major cities like London, Paris and Rome, the expenses between food and travel add up quick.
Spending five months in a foreign country is thrilling, yet also terrifying at the same time. The people, culture, language, currency and even the food are all different.
“Another common misconception about foreigners is that they perceive Americans as ignorant,” said Guastaferro. “All the Irish people I met while I was abroad were really nice, interested in American culture, and were all really helpful.”
For the most part, Americans have good experiences with the local people.
“I met a lot of awesome people in Ireland…people I still talk to today! It’s really cool seeing how different their culture is,” said Guastaferro.
Concerning academics, the education system in the UK and in Europe is very different than the United States.
From personal experience, the UK education system is much more independent, and it is up to the student to go to class, do homework, and study. Professors do not take attendance, and pretty much leave it up to the student to do well. There are only two assignments the whole term, however, these assignments determine your whole grade. The grading system is also completely different, and it is very difficult to receive “a first” (the equivalent to an A in the U.S.).
In comparison, American students have a lot more busy work and tests they have to worry about throughout the semester. Professors also expect students to attend class, and even penalize students for not going to class. Americans also go to university for four years, while students in the UK only attend university for three years.
Studying abroad is one of the most life changing experiences that every student should take advantage of. Many students have no regrets about their experience, however, almost all students who study abroad with they knew more before going into it.