Studying while living abroad in a foreign country for three months is an experience I will never forget. Even though I studied abroad in an English-speaking country, I still had to adapt to cultural differences. In order to get around, I had to rely heavily on public transportation. This was not exclusive to the UK. Almost everywhere in Europe I travelled to (Paris, Zurich, Bergen, Helsinki), I used public transport to get around those cities, including getting between the airport and my hotel.
What stood out to me from travelling all over Europe was the prevalence of English. Even though I travelled to several non-English speaking countries, almost everyone I spoke to spoke English fluently. This made me realize how fortunate I am that my native language happens to be the one that is most in use not just in Europe but all around the world. I have also learned that European children are taught English in schools at an early age (around eight or nine).
Something else that stood out to me was the political and societal climate across Europe. People in Europe seem to be much more conscious about the environment. For example, while single-use plastics are still very common in the U.S., they are extremely rare in Europe. In fact, whenever plastics are in use (such as plastic bags in supermarkets), there is an extra fee to use one. There were also a lot of protests, particularly in London and Paris. Much of Europe is currently undergoing a cost of living crisis (significantly worse than in the U.S.), and people are unable to make ends meet. Another thing to consider is that unions have much more power in Europe in terms of negotiating with the government on wages. As a result, many workers go on strike very frequently. Since many of these workers belong to unions (who are the ones calling the strikes), entire industries can be paralyzed as a result. In the UK, the most affected industry by the strikes (during my time abroad) was the National Rail. On days of strikes, approximately 90% of services were cancelled. Even though there was still twice-hourly between Brighton (where my university is located) and London on days of strikes, services ended much earlier in the day than on days with regular service. As a result, I had to plan a lot of my excursions around these disruptions. These National Rail strikes occurred on average, once every other week during my time there.
As a result of my experience abroad, I have gained a few invaluable skills. Among the most important skills I gained was a strong sense of independence, with regards to planning and venturing into unfamiliar situations on my own. This was especially true when I decided to go to several non-English speaking countries by myself. Looking back on my experience, I large credit this study abroad experience to the growth I have undergone as a person, especially in the past several months. It is very hard to see myself at this juncture without taking the leap of faith and living abroad on my own for several months.
Warren Mears (BS Environmental Science) spent Fall 2022 studying abroad in Brighton, England through USAC. Warren had the following to say about studying abroad, “Don’t just dip your toe in the water because taking the plunge is the only way you can soak up the entire experience.”
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