An Unsuspecting Student’s Guide to studying abroad: how to make the most of your time abroad.
To study abroad or not to study abroad, that is the question. And the answer? Yes, a thousand times yes – for a plethora of reasons.
Beginning my first year at Sussex, I’d arrived with a few goals in mind; make friends, live my truth, and if I could, study abroad. Going into university I felt I had to take advantage of every opportunity given to me, within my curriculum and way beyond it (That’s one of the reasons I joined The Badger).
However, something I was not expecting was having to make this hugely important study abroad decision within weeks of starting my first year. A month into Autumn term, I was filling out an application form full of module choices from universities all over the world and fighting my case for why I wanted to go abroad; made even more urgent by fact that shortly Brexit will affect every international opportunity.
Luckily for the Viking in me, Sussex offered me a place at the University of Oslo for the Spring term of second year, allowing me to explore my mostly repressed half-Norwegian roots. All I had to do now was to fill out several more forms, get insurance and get at least a 2:1 in my first year (that’s 60% for you freshers); shouldn’t be too hard right?
Having accepted my place at Oslo, I had a full one year before the big move; which ended up flying by surprisingly fast. It wasn’t until almost halfway through my second year that I realised I would be moving abroad soon, which of course, then gave rise to a lot of what I now know, to be unnecessary anxieties.
To touch on a few of these; I was worried about leaving behind those I loved. I was terrified of being alone abroad. I cried about missing out on everything happening in Brighton. Yet, with the support of my incredible family and friends, I bucked up and got over these fears. I wasn’t about to allow myself to drop out of what I knew would be such positive experience. I’m so grateful that my friends dealt with my wobbles, especially at my leaving party, because they made me realise how lucky I am. I was about to have an incredible group of friends at home and likewise abroad, on top of experiencing a new culture, course and set of flatmates.
Since arriving in Oslo on January 3, it’s genuinely been a non-stop thrill ride. The only slight to this being my own fault: I didn’t finish my Autumn term final essays in time for ‘Buddy Week’ so had to spend hours upon hours rushing to complete those. Assessments aside, it’s been such a positive experience.
To begin with, Oslo provided the new international students with a week of orientations and events based around the Buddy groups we were assigned to. Whilst initially hesitant about ‘organized fun’, I’m so glad I took part because those friends I made have stayed with me for almost two months. Even better, is the fact that they’re from all over the world. So, free accommodation whenever I want to go travelling in the future!
My new ‘buddies’ and myself hired a sauna boat, and swam in freezing Norwegian waters. We’ve hiked hours to a woodland cabin and lived off melted snow and surprisingly good pasta for three days. We drunkenly booked flights to Budapest and spent another three days sightseeing, partying and basking in natural pools. We’re the reputable front runners in a trivia night tournament, even if we’re essentially just lucky guessers. Amongst so many other incredible experiences this is only a taste of what exiling myself to Norway has been so far.
On top of that, Oslo, and any other university you may visit, offers you with ultra-specific courses and modules that are fascinating to study and participate in. As an English and Film student, I’ve been able to partake in a Norwegian language course, a module all about Scandinavian cinema, a Caribbean literature module and a module about animals in 20th Century novels; most of which I couldn’t do at Sussex, despite it’s already varied course content.
If I ruled the world, I’d make it mandatory to study abroad for at least one semester. However, I know many may be swayed by fears and anxieties like I almost was. So, I’d like to offer a few hot tips to ease your mind:
Pick an institution you are comfortable with
If you are concerned about being far away from family, you probably shouldn’t pick a destination 12 hours away in a completely different time zone. For some, this works but for myself, a nervous human, being only one hour ahead and at most a three-hour journey from home allows me to be independent, but also to easily maintain those important domestic relationships.
Once abroad, say yes to everything (within reason of course!)
If I hadn’t said “yes” consistently, I would have never experienced Norway to the extent that I have so far. Never in my life would I have envisioned myself half nude in a sauna full of people I’d met once, or even total strangers, but by simply saying yes to this crazy experience I had one of the best days I’ve ever had during my university time.
Whilst, the bank account will suffer with this mindset you are only abroad once. Take advantage of it.
Set aside money to fund your time abroad
Perhaps get a part-time job during your first or second year before you go abroad. That way you will have money to treat yourself. Erasmus luckily provides international students with a generous grant of around £1,500. Yet, in a country like Norway where everything costs an arm and a leg – chocolate can cost the equivalent of £5 here! – the additional money I saved from working a couple of hours a week helped immensely.
Do your research
Is the minimum age for clubs 20+ yet you are only 19? I’ve been there, and it hurts. Do your research. Whilst, this specific factoid doesn’t really bother me truly all that much, (I’ll always pick a night in with pals over a night out), you should research the culture of your new home, so you know exactly what to expect at most times. Google, Siri, Yahoo! are your friends.
Try and learn the language
If you’re going abroad to a non-English speaking country, why not aid your acclimatisation by learning some of the local lingo?
Follow in the footsteps of my fellow Oslo exchange student and friend Jamie and download DuoLingo months ahead of time. Let the pesky green owl remind you daily to habla español or snakk norsk. Then whilst abroad you can always take an extra module or evening classes to allow you to get by in everyday life.
It’ll help massively when shopping or trying to talk to locals. And your CV will look extra special with ‘speaks Spanish’ in the special skills column.
You’re abroad with a fresh new slate. Leave the drama of home behind and start anew. Live your best life. New friends will appreciate it. To be honest, don’t just do this abroad, this is more of a general tip for any time – Always be confident to be yourself in any culture, open yourself up to the ‘yes’ of life, and always look forward with excitement to the unknown.
These are just a few of the things studying in Oslo has taught me so far, and I can’t wait for what is in store for me in the remaining few months