Studying Abroad

For my first semester of college, I studied at a remote castle in Southern England.

“Bad experiences are good experiences too,” was literally the only thought that kept me going throughout the year following my return to Montreal — yup, it took me a FULL YEAR to finally stop listening to that voice inside my head saying “Tessa, you shouldn’t have went.”

Although I no longer regret my decision to study abroad, (in fact I probably learned more that semester than I will learn during all my years at McGill), I wanted to share the factors I wish I would have paid a little more attention to prior to saying yes to what seemed to be, (and what I guess was), an opportunity of a lifetime. ✈

Below you will find my personal recommendations — concerns that can make or break your experience, but that aren’t at the top of what you’re told to consider upon making your study abroad choices.

So, BEFORE making that first non-refundable deposit, please be wary of the following:

  1. You may want to seriously take into account the physical environment in which you’ll be spending most of your time. No matter how certain you are that a 17th century rural college (or 15th century castle, in my case) is your definition of beautiful, it may turn out to not be for you. Especially if you’ve grown up in the city or are used to the McGill scene, where drugstores, clothing stores, grocery stores, and almost every store you name, are a block away. Living in a college town, (or in the middle of nowhere in my case), simply isn’t for everyone, even if you REALLY believe to be the type that loves nature and rarely goes shopping anyway.
  1. You may want to figure out an approximation of the number of people you will have the opportunity to meet. Again, no matter how certain you are that a small class size type of environment with a total student body of less than five thousand kids (or one hundred in my case), is what you need in order to excel, being in a situation where you do not see new faces on a daily basis SERIOUSLY differs from what you are used to here at McGill, even if you had the experience of attending a tiny high school. What I am trying to get at is that no matter how comforting or soothing the nonsensical concept of “a tight-knit-community” may sound, it is actually a bigger risk to take than heading for the “daunting and overwhelming” city life. In other words, the number of people that you have the ability to meet should be a significant factor to consider when making your decision. (The math is quite basic: more people to meet = greater chance of finding your “crew” + making those lasting friendships.)
  1. You may want to look into the type of people you will likely be staying with/hanging out with/going to classes with/interacting with in general. The internet, and social media specifically has made it incredibly easy for you to (at least partially) pinpoint the people who you will, in all likelihood, be spending most of your time with. What are they passionate about? Where did they grow up? What are their hobbies? Can you see yourself being friends with them?
  1. You may want to remind yourself that just because you chose the “random roommate” option and got lucky the first couple of times around, you may not be as lucky this time around when you’re in a foreign country. Sucks, I know. I’m just covering all the bases here.
  1. You may want to rethink that whole “stepping out of your comfort zone” expression. Remind yourself that while attending a school across the universe is obviously admirable, so is showing up to the McGill chess and debate club meetings alone, when you’ve never played chess and have never debated before, and then using a story from your tournament experiences in your grad school application.
  1. Last but not least, you may want to take a good look at yourself, and call to mind where it is that you stand in relation to the person that you are striving to become. If you feel as though you have achieved a more or less “satisfied” regard toward who you have turned into thus far, just be aware that going away for a semester can reck all that work that went into “discovering” who you are. I generally don’t like to use this term, but if you feel as though you have somewhat “found yourself” in these past couple of years, please note that studying abroad will truly change your entire perception of everything, including yourself. In other words, you are likely going to have to start over when it comes to that path of self-discovery. (Evidently, there is nothing wrong with restarting, but depending on how you feel about where you presently stand in that process, it might simply be a better idea for yourself, to attend that chess meeting in lieu of flying across the pond.)

Again, these are the elements that seemed less obvious to me when I was making my decision — the things I would have appreciated being told to consider a tad more carefully. But regardless of the amount of advice you get and regardless of the amount of time you spend pondering over the idea of going to school overseas, there is only one way to find out if you would be likely to have an enjoyable time abroad. So get on that plane! (And apply to be a CaPS blogger upon your return so you could share your personal unobvious factors that you might have failed to consider before leaving town.)

Hindsight is 20/20!


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