Study in Wales presents new challenges, opportunities

In September, I said goodbye to everyone I knew and went to live in a place I'd never been, with people I'd never met. I am now 3,000 miles away from home, studying at the University of Swansea in Wales.

My life in Swansea is such a change from Geneseo. The school is different, the language is different (despite the fact that it's an English-speaking country), the culture is different, and, as all American students in the UK will tell you, the value of the US dollar is very different.

Here, I had to register for classes "the old fashioned way." Sans Knightweb, students go from department to department (scattered throughout buildings around campus) trying to scrape together their schedules. The British students have an easier time, because their major essentially sets their courses for all their years of study, leaving them to deal only with their department to obtain schedules. Alternatively, for American students seeking a liberal arts education, the process has proven highly frustrating.

Once the schedule is set, the pace slows to an almost leisurely rate, with a lot of freedom given to the students. When my schedule was all done, I found myself with three days of classes (Mondays and Fridays off) and four lectures consisting of five contact hours per week. The focus is on independent study and research, which allows students to pursue their personal interests.

I've been in classes here for just over a month, and sometimes it still feels like I'm on summer vacation. In Geneseo, I pack my daily schedule with activities and clubs that I love doing, but they eventually overrun my life. Here, I consciously choose to take it easy, to relax and enjoy - and the lifestyle in Swansea seems to match.

Coming to Wales, I worried about a language barrier with the Welsh language, so I was surprised to see how the different two languages, both deceptively called English, could be. First, I ran into some confusion at school. Here, classes are "modules," majors are "courses," college is "university" or "uni" and freshmen are "freshers." Matters furthered in complication and confusion at Frisbee practice. "To pull" in the U.S. means to throw the starting disc, yet asking a British person if they'd like "to pull" is the slang equivalent of asking them to hook up. "To toss" a disc is common in the states, but here "to toss" means something quite different.

Today, lists the cost of a Great Britain Pound as 2.09 USD. Essentially this means that as soon as I landed in the UK, my bank account was cut in half. I've been pushed to budget much more, and I've learned I can manage my money and prioritize in order to do the things I want to do. While I'm here, I try and remind myself that money is only as important as the experiences it brings me - an important message for anyone looking to study abroad.

From studying abroad, I've learned how to cook three meals a day (no meal plan included), how to create and maintain a budget and how to relax and have some downtime. I've learned that if things have to be done I must do them, and that time speeds by before you know it. If I don't do it now, I might not ever get it done. I've learned that going someplace new and carving out a niche for yourself takes time and patience, but is an exhilarating feeling when it clicks and you think, "I can belong here."

At times, it's been one of the most stressful, terrifying, difficult things I've ever done. The process of getting here (paperwork, flight reservations, setting up housing), then registering for classes, being in charge of my passport and other important documents, and being so far away from a local branch of my bank are certainly not the highlights of study abroad. But they are all worth it when I wake up each day with a smile, thinking, "I'm in Wales. I'm really here right now."