Studying Abroad

Exactly one year ago, I was getting ready to leave the country for the first time ever and spend the fall semester as an exchange student in England.

So, in honor of this study-abroad-iversary, I’d like to give a brief but well-deserved shout-out to Norwich and the good friends I made there at the University of East Anglia.

When people ask me about my time abroad, I usually tell them this: I studied English and American Literature for a semester in Norwich, England, at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and then I spent about three weeks backpacking through Western Europe. It totaled at about four months living abroad. It was awesome, and I’m so, so grateful.

It’s also an opportunity not everyone can have (for financial reasons or because of their course of study), but it’s worth it if you can figure out a way how. There are study abroad opportunities ranging from one week to a whole year and a decent amount of available scholarships and aid.

Norwich has more medieval churches than any city in Western Europe north of the Alps.
Norwich has more medieval churches than any city in Western Europe north of the Alps. That’s one of them behind me!

I loved studying abroad for a lot of reasons. One of them was the actual studying.

The academic experience was very graduate student-esque. My classes were almost all seminar style with a lot of independent study and longer in duration (2-3 hours) but only met once or twice a week. Ultimately, school during most of the semester could be as intense or as lackadaisical as I wanted because my grades were based solely on a final paper or a final paper and a midterm. I ended up getting a little more lackadaisical than I’d hoped and jammed a LOT of reading into the final few weeks of school, which I do regret and would not recommend.

If you ever want to feel like that kid in The Sixth Sense (i.e., “I see dead people” ?), drink four cups of Earl Grey at 3 a.m. and then write a critical analysis of Middle English texts. Or maybe don’t because you’re a wiser, less procrastinating student than I.

Still, I loved sitting in class with just five or six other students and really getting into a text. It was fun and mind-broadening to experience the opinions of people who grew up across the world and hadn’t taken the exact same sequence of English courses right alongside me. We were very different people, and different was great in a debate about poetry or Gothic fiction.

Plus, reading a medieval text in the actual medieval city where it was written? Then getting to touch the actual original manuscript on a class field trip? Surreal, to say the last, and maybe education at its very coolest.

I also loved the people I met.

Some friends and I in front of Norwich Cathedral!
My friends and I in front of Norwich Cathedral!

Half the learning you do abroad isn’t even in the classroom, and half of the learning I did was with these people.

Let me tell you, nervousness at being alone in a new country and at a new school will make you eager to make friends. But in my case, these weren’t just bum friends to keep the loneliness away. These were the real deal. We laughed together. We proofread each other’s papers. We traveled on weekends and after the semester ended. And we had genuine, through-the-Scottish-countryside, under-the-English-Channel, OH-NO-WE’RE-GONNA-MISS-OUR-FLIGHT adventures.

We even wore matching Christmas jumpers.

Real friends wear reindeer.

Another thing I’ve heard about study abroad (even from my mom, who studied abroad while she was an Illinois student) is that studying abroad teaches you how to impress yourself. You don’t think you can navigate in a country where you don’t know the language, or figure out how to hail a cab, or make it to the train in time, but you do. And you do it over and over again until you’re a braver, better, more resourceful person.

And I think we all became braver and better together.

To this day, we maintain a Facebook group chat and swap adventures from our “normal” lives back home, but we have plans to meet up again soon. Love to Norwich, love to my friends, and love to you when you brave it “across the pond” or wherever your wanderlust takes you!

Want to know more about study abroad? Click here!



Class of 2017
After starting my time at Illinois Undeclared in the Division of General Studies, I’m majoring in English and Economics with a minor in Informatics from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I’m from the relatively small town of Manhattan, Illinois.