It’s overwhelming, but you can do it!
I know it’s been a while since my last blog post, but that’s because I’ve been busy welcoming you all to the U.K. these past few weeks! I’ve had the pleasure to meet and greet many of you at your various UCEAP orientations, and talk to you about your fears and hopes for your study abroad experience.
Not too long ago, I sat in your seats at these orientations, trying to keep upright as wave after wave of information was thrown at me. Personally, I felt incredibly reassured to know that there was an office full of people nearby (and not somewhere across the ocean in CA!) with the resources and the willingness to help me. However, that did not mean I was not still completely overwhelmed by all of it.
So, whether you’ve just arrived or may be planning on arriving soon or maybe even next semester, I hope you’ll find some use for my advice about how to handle your first few days and weeks abroad.
Be patient. Be Proactive.
At your UCEAP orientation and in your first few days and weeks at your host city, you will learn exponentially about academics and life in a new country. From the day you get to your UCEAP orientation, you will hit the ground running. The best things to bring with you on your flight from California will be patience and proactivity.
From setting up your UCEAP study lists to finding your way to class and back (on time)–everything will be a learning experience. You might find that things that were so easy back home have suddenly become difficult and frustrating tasks. Your grocery runs to the Co-op around the corner, five-minute bike ride to lecture, or online course registration through your UC portal have now turned into queues down the aisle at Lidl, 30-minute commutes and a series of signatures and hoops to jump through.
Adjusting to these differences will take some time, and you’ll be yearning to be done with all of it and start exploring the city/country/Europe already. I highly recommend that you get out there and live it up, but please take my word and make sure you get down to business first, before you’re whisked away by U.K. social life and cheap European airlines.
Order of Business: Some Tips
The following are a few tips that I’ve learned (mainly through trial and error, folks) along the way that have helped me to adjust more smoothly to my new life abroad:
- Classes. Settle on your course schedule as soon as possible. Be in contact with your major departments back home early on to see which courses might count for major credit. You might have arrived with a certain schedule in mind, but don’t be afraid to shop around and feel around for what interests you best. Remember, you’re here to study! A class schedule you’re pleased with will make a world of difference throughout your experience.
- Transportation. Familiarize yourself with the transportation system. For many of you, this will happen entirely by accident—ya get lost! It will probably be incredibly frustrating and anxiety-inducing when it happens, but you’ll laugh about it afterwards and find that you’ve become very familiar with your local transport. I can now recall every stop on the Yamanote line in Tokyo and it only took me an hour of looping around and repeatedly missing my stop to become an expert. If you manage to navigate your way successfully each time, then I recommend that you get lost on purpose; hop on and off somewhere different when you have some spare time, and challenge yourself to find your way back.
- Sustenance. By ‘sustenance’ I mean physical, mental and emotional well-being. Make sure that you’re eating well, and sticking to your food budgets (i.e. not eating out too often) so that you have enough to get you through the month. Listen to your body and reach out for help sooner rather than later. The UCEAP system has teams and resources to help you, but if you don’t communicate what you need and with time, we might be limited in what we can do for you. Also, be sure to register with your GP (general practitioner) at your uni or in your host city as soon as you can. Don’t do what I did and wait till misfortune strikes and you find yourself sitting in an emergency room for 2 hours.
- Schedule. Balancing study, travels, social life, and sustenance (see above^) will be an exercise of your organizational skills and discipline. But, it is do-able. Of course, it entails you being realistic about your time and capabilities. Can you really book those Ryanair flights the week before midterms, and still ace your courses? Not likely. Go out. Explore the U.K. and all of its wonderful pockets of
- Routine. Fill your time with things that you used to do back home. It’ll help establish a sense of normality in the whirlwind of foreignness and uncertainty. Join the football society at your uni if soccer was a big part of your life back in California, or if something like surfing, or any other unique-to-California activity, was your thing perhaps now is the time to pick up something new.
- Deadlines. Deadlines are deadlines. Be on top of your responsibilities and Read. Your. Emails. I admit I was put on probation during one of my study abroad programs for failing to respond to an email… not fun times. You’ll discover that the U.K. academic system is much the same; they do not bend. In extenuating circumstances, the UCEAP Study Centres may be able to offer a hand, but circumstances and excuses like “I didn’t see the email” will not fly.
Be confident that you can succeed.
In the midst of your struggles and uncertainties in these first few weeks, you might find that your confidence in your ability to succeed is shaken up a little. No matter what, remember that you as a UC student are more than competent and capable of succeeding at your new university and in your new lives abroad. You were chosen to attend the world-class universities that are the UCs, and they have now sent you off to a partner university abroad with the sureness that you are prepared to flourish and represent them abroad.
It’s meant to be challenging, of course; if it were easy, it would hardly be worth it. So although you may not know what’s going on 100% of the time, believe me when I tell you that you can and will grow as a student, person, and global citizen during your time abroad. You just have to find your feet first.
Best of luck in your first weeks at uni! If you found this useful, please share it with your homies, and shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Enjoy the ride ~ Esther
In The Rollercoaster series, I will do my best to address various different aspects of “the ride” that is studying abroad, drawing from my experiences in different programs around the world with UCEAP. With my hindsight, I’m hoping to give you, incoming or current EAP students, insight into what lies up ahead and (in however small a way) help you make the most out of your time abroad.
Checkout my other posts in this series below: