Studying abroad is something I dreamed about from a very young age. As a child I constantly read books and was enamored by the adventures the characters took me on, always wanting to go on one of my own. Many years, and books, later I found myself at UTC with the opportunity to finally make my dreams come true and spend an entire semester in a new country with new adventures. It took a lot of time and consideration, but I eventually settled on the University of Stirling in Scotland. I had always dreamed of living in the United Kingdom at some point in life (I blame my early love of Harry Potter and the BBC Channel), the scenery was beautiful, I had heard the people were friendly, and of course the ultimate deciding factor was the University offering many classes to suit my environmental science major. Like most things in life, my time abroad didn’t go as I had planned due to many factors, COVID-19 being the largest, but I still don’t regret taking the leap and finally living out my lifelong dream.

Stirling was an absolutely amazing city to live in for a few months. It may be small, but there are plenty of restaurants, pubs, shopping, hiking, and history to fill up free time and weekends. The city is small enough to walk anywhere you’d need to go- even campus on nice days- and the local bus system is cheap and runs all day if you need to go far or weather isn’t ideal. Speaking of the weather, it was definitely different than Southern winters. I went in
expecting the rain, wind, and snow but some found it odd that I enjoyed it. In fact, one of the first questions a local would ask me after learning I was studying abroad was “why would you come here with this weather? You should have gone somewhere warm!”

There were very few drawbacks to living in the smaller area, however at some points I wished that I had chosen to study in a larger city, such as Edinburgh or Glasgow. This was mostly because it was expensive and sometimes difficult to travel farther than cities in Scotland. Larger cities have access to larger airports and cheaper plane fares. Because of this, my budget didn’t allow me to travel the way I had originally planned. Even though this factor caused me a little grief during my time abroad, I’m still glad I chose Stirling to study in.

Studying abroad wasn’t exactly what I had imagined. I did have an amazing experience and grew in ways I could never imagine. Unfortunately, part of that experience will forever be marked by the global pandemic. My time abroad was cut short by exactly 65 days. 65 days of adventure, of late nights on the town, of hiking, of meeting new people, trying new foods, traveling. I never made it to the Highlands- a trip was planned for the very weekend I had to leave the country. My trips to England and Ireland were both cut as well. Even now, almost three months after I’ve left, it’s hard to think about what got cut out of my experience and the time I’ll never get back. I remember the week all of us international students learned we would be pulled home. Within a few days all of us had gotten emails from our respective universities. What was supposed to be months, turned into a few days of experiences. Strangely, the early closure of my program really helped me realize how special my time abroad was.

In my last days before heading home I went to my favorite spots a few more times, worked up the courage to stop in a pub I had wanted to experience, and made the most of the time I had left in a city I had the privilege of calling home. Reflecting on my time now that I’m back in the United States has taught me that you really can never predict what will happen to you. I had this grand idea of what studying abroad would be in my head before departing. I had dreamed up a magical time filled with constant traveling, handfuls of new friends, constant happiness, and definitely not a pandemic interrupting me. Nothing ever works out like that, and it’s okay. I still made a small group of new friends that did everything together, I still got to explore some of what I had planned, and I still got to experience something I never thought I would have the financial opportunity to.

I will always be grateful for my time abroad, and will thank the pandemic for how it changed my perception on what is important and how to adapt when things don’t go as planned. Because of my time abroad I know myself and the world just a little bit better.

Aurora Cotton-Suda is majoring in Environmental Science and spent part of Spring 2020 studying abroad in Stirling, Scotland through CIS abroad. Aurora had the following to say about studying abroad, “If you’re waiting for the right time, go ahead and jump. There are so many adventures to be had out there, you’ll find exactly where you’re supposed to be.”

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