After spending an enlightening and unforgettable semester in Oxford, England, I cannot speak highly enough of my experiences and the concept of studying abroad.
Admittedly, it was a bit of a shock coming to a new place so far and different from home. I had to learn which way to look before crossing the street (having a couple close calls with double-deckers), resolve myself to calling French fries "chips" and potato chips "crisps," and get used to walking a half hour to the library instead of simply racing up cardiac hill.
I started out a stranger to the culture, and I was so proud when that first person mistook me for a local and asked me for directions. Of course, it takes much longer than a few months to become fully versed with a culture, but it is easy to become proficient when you stay open minded. Trying traditional foods, using British terms, and taking part in events like "bops" proved to people that I came to be a part of their culture, not to be a tourist.
The transition was also made easier by the fact that all of the other students were incredibly friendly. Contrary to popular belief, I found no hostility against Americans; everyone was interested in hearing my perspective on issues, especially those regarding politics. In fact, I attended an American election party hosted by the Union Society to watch the returns come in around 3 a.m. and the British students were just as enthusiastic as Americans about the race. When the polls closed and the winner was announced, everyone was hugging each other and crying in a perfect scene of solidarity.
I think many people hesitate to study abroad for fear that they will not fit in with the other students, but it is important to remember that in just being a student, we already have so much in common. We're all learning. We all love music and movies, complaining about our workloads and cutting back for a night out.
Joining clubs and societies allowed me to find people who shared in my more specific interests. I did gymnastics in high school, so I joined the team at Oxford and grew closest to those I met there. The team put on social events throughout the term, and I learned what true Oxford students do for fun-mainly eat Indian food and go dancing, as it turns out. If all else fails, there are other international students making the same adjustments, so it is easy to feel at home with them.
Studying abroad is hands-down the best decision I've made in college. I don't think my education would have been complete without this experience, as I learned how to interact with people who live outside the state of New York, and how to truly take care of myself independently.
We all have to become self-reliant in college, but something about being in such a different place starts the process over again and you find yourself doing things you never thought you could. I am certainly more confident now than I was when I was last attending Geneseo, and can say that I've learned a lot about myself through my travels.
One semester was not long enough to take everything in, but I strongly urge everyone to take at least that much time to study in a foreign country; it is a decision you will never regret.