I will say, right off the bat, that studying abroad is like being on a whole different plane of existence. After spending what felt like years but is only a couple of months abroad, I became disconnected from home and started integrating into surrounding culture. At the same time, I felt as if I came to know myself better. I’ve grown in the way I see things, and I would like to share those experiences with you now.
Studying Abroad In Germany vs. England
Before I went abroad, I did all the necessary requirements; making sure my passport was up to date, getting European currency from the bank because the exchange rate is atrocious, and making sure my phone was unlocked for pre-paid sim cards. Yet, when I arrived for my fall semester in Germany with my school’s direct exchange program, I was a hot mess. I felt totally unprepared, over-packed and outlandish; literally and figuratively. American students stick out like sore thumbs because we do three things: we tend to stay in large groups of other Americans, we get confused if we seat ourselves, and we panic under pressure. I scrambled around trying to find out where I was going and what I was doing for basically the entire four months I was in Germany. Throughout it all however, I was becoming a different person. I learned to live life to the fullest with new friends I had made among the local and internationals students. When the semester was over, I had to turn around and do it all over again for my spring semester in Cheltenham, England with BCA Study Abroad.
Reflecting back now, the transition wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, but I did experience some intense culture shock. My brain was confused between mistaking England for America and still being in Germany. I cannot tell you how many times during my first month I thought I was hearing German and it was just English with a heavy accent. I was used to being surround by German culture and studying alongside my new friends. I had to leave them behind and do the same stressful scramble as before or… at least I thought I did.
Making Cultural & Educational Transitions
The BCA resident director had everything planned for my arrival. He organized accordingly, knowing that I was coming from Germany at an inconvenient time. He met with us and got to know us individually. I will definitely say that he made time here great. (Shout out to Ian Sutton for putting up with my weird humor!) At the University of Gloucestershire, I am taking courses in graphic design, advertising and animation. I wanted to take classes I couldn’t take at my home university, and I urge anyone studying abroad to do the same.
In Cheltenham, everything is run differently from American schools. Students have a lot more freedom and independence, but with that, there is a higher standard of quality. Your studies require a lot of work like precision and attention to detail, but they help shape you as a person. At the end of the spring, I will be able to take back all of the creative teachings I’ve gained. When I return, I hope to share my new knowledge and help others to grow as well.
Studying abroad is tough. Some things won’t go your way and others will get in your way, but I would recommend it nonetheless. The biggest reality check I think I had was when I thought being abroad meant I could ignore all my personal issues until I came back to the States. Obviously, that caught up with me, but it’s hard not to get swept up in what basically feels like “a new life.” My advice is to bring back an experience you’re proud to share. Even if when coming back, it seems like no one cares, they’ll see your passion. They’ll see the hard work you’ve put in and realize how serious you are. I would recommend to get out of the “American Bubble!” It is real and it is restricting. It’s scary being on your own and you’ll want to stick to other Americans, but try hard to make new friends! I’m not saying that you shouldn’t talk to other American students, but you’ll never learn about the culture you’re in, if you don’t become friends with the locals. I’ve met some amazing people here in England and sometimes the simplest way of bonding is talking about cultural differences.
About the Author – Jenny Cheng, Spring 2018 Cheltenham, England & Juniata College Student
I am a 22-year-old student studying Integrated Media Arts and German. I currently work for Juniata College as a video producer in the Digital Media Studio. For my junior year I studied abroad in Marburg, Germany with my colleges exchange program in the Fall and Cheltenham, England with BCA Study Abroad in Spring.