When and where did you study abroad?
I studied in London for a spring semester.
What made you want to study abroad?
I've always wanted to study in a different country. I didn't think I was able to because of my major (multidisciplinary studies in music and electrical engineering), but when I found out I was able to I was ecstatic and jumped at the opportunity.
How did you search for programs? What made you select your program?
I searched through the list of programs with SUNY schools in London. Eventually I chose AIU (American InternContinental University) London because of the fabulous location, and because I knew I wouldn't know anybody in the program.
What was your application process like?
Be yourself during the application process, definitely. Show the schools the passion you have for traveling and studying abroad. Studying abroad is a chance for you to do something most people don't get to, and to reinvent yourself. My application process was fairly easy and my teachers were eager to provide references for me.
What was the biggest surprise about your study abroad experience?
I found myself spending time with a group of girls that were very different from me, not the type of girls I generally hang out with, but we all became the best of friends by the end of the experience. We were tied together by the study abroad experience. All of us went in just being ourselves, without trying to "act cool" or "be someone" (which is something that happens a lot at college). It was amazing!
Did you participate in extra-curricular or social activities abroad? If so, how did they differ from social activities in your home culture?
I did many of the tourist activities with my friends, and a lot of the activities people in London do, like pub crawls and playing cricket in the park. I found that the culture was a lot more open and accepting in a lot of ways than American culture; it was nice to constantly feel welcome.
How did you deal with the cultural divide?
At first it was hard to get used to. A lot of things are different, so you have to think twice when doing normal day-to-day things, but eventually it becomes your normal! That is the nicest part of studying abroad: when the cultural differences you noticed when you arrived become normal to you. But people interact differently in the UK than the US. Many people were open and kind about helping us Americans get used to the culture and showing us around. I remember finally feeling at home in London when a group of us went to a local pub to watch the "football" match and everyone was yelling at the TV (much like many Americans do when watching our own sports!). Living in London, there were many little aspects about the culture and country that we had to adapt to, but there were many cultural similarities too.
What was the most important thing you learned about cross-cultural communication while you were studying abroad?
Respect other people's cultural differences. The school I went to (American Intercontinental University) was really diverse and filled with people from all over the world. Getting to interact with them and learn about different cultures was amazing; and I built an understanding of what it means to respect cultural differences. Also, if you have any questions about the host culture or the way things are done when you are studying abroad, people are more than happy to help you. It's better to ask than try to figure it out alone!
What was your return like?
Very bittersweet! I missed home, but once I was home I was ready to go back. I'm definitely going to try and go abroad again. I'm so happy I went abroad and I can't imagine not going again. It was really nice to see all of my friends and family back at home, and I've already been lucky enough to see some of my study abroad friends since I've been in America.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
DO IT! Don't be scared that you won't be able to graduate on time, or that it's too hard, or too much money. There are always ways to work things out. It's something you may regret if you don't do it and I would recommend it to anyone. You meet some of the most amazing people -- plus if you're in the UK, you can travel for fairly cheap through many different countries.
What did you miss most about home?
I mostly just missed good pizza and bagels! Of course I missed my friends and family, but as long as you keep in contact with them while you're there (regular Skype calls, etc) you will be able to make the most of your time abroad.
Do you have anything else to add?
Studying abroad changed my life. I can't imagine life without that experience. I changed so much as a person, and came back feeling completely new and refreshed. If it is something you're remotely considering, I say go for it!
Maggie's story outlines a familiar experience -- a student goes abroad and is surprised by how quickly he or she makes friends and becomes attached to the host culture. We'd recommend that Maggie continue her "international education" by going abroad to study, volunteer or teach English in a non-English-speaking country. By challenging herself to adapt in a less familiar cultural environment, she'll learn even more about herself and the world. Cross-cultural communication skills and knowledge of foreign cultures are highly-valued traits in almost every industry. Maggie might even choose to go abroad on a working vacation, earning money in an au pair or service position while immersing herself in a new culture.