I was fortunate enough to have earned a study abroad placement at UNCW for the 3rd Year of my Marine Biology degree. Having lived in 6 different countries, I was no stranger to moving abroad to live somewhere new. I was, however, completely new to the idea of moving somewhere for the first time on my own, especially since it was across the Atlantic Ocean (this was also coupled with stresses of living costs and ensuring I was going to be able to support myself). Looking back on the entire experience, although these are serious concerns that deserve the attention they require, I realise now that not only was there actually very little to worry about as long as you are properly prepared, it was all entirely worth it! I without a doubt can say that the best decision I have ever made in terms of my university life was deciding to stick with doing a study abroad.
The culture that comes with the “Southern hospitality” mentality, along with the warm & open personalities I was met with in America was my first great surprise. UNCW made an amazing effort to ensure that I, along with all the other exchange students who were starting their years at UNCW, were all integrated into campus life and were well prepared to start our lives in a completely different country. Although the first few days were a bit daunting, I could not believe how quickly I managed to settle in at UNCW. The campus was not only incredibly large, but so well-kept and with such impressive facilities that I thought I was living in a movie for the first few weeks (the gym as well as the dining facilities were one of the biggest positives to living on campus). One of the most important things all of the international students agreed upon was that we make sure we get out of our comfort zones and force ourselves to make friends with students who were locals to the area. Doing so (since most Americans could have their cars on campus) also allowed us to truly take advantage of the University’s close proximity to the beach! Besides our American friends always being willing to drive us around and help tell us about local gems, it was amazing to meet so many amazing people. Having stayed in the UK for the past 6 years, I had forgotten how incredible of an experience it is to meet and make new best friends abroad.
In terms of the kinds of friends I made during my study abroad in Wilmington, words cannot express how much they mean to me. I had a few unfortunate events occur back home during my time abroad, and the amount of support and care I received from people that I had been friends with for just a semester blew me away. I now have countless memories that I am lucky enough to have shared with some of these people, whether it be travelling to New York or New Orleans together on a road trip, or going to the state carnival or NFL game (all of which I would seriously recommend). Whether it was because of the environment we were surrounded in or solely because of how amazing these people were, I can say with complete confidence that a good portion of the friends I made in America will be friends I have (and keep in contact with, thanks to social media) for the rest of my life.
If you are on the edge of whether or not you would like to do a study abroad, I would definitely suggest at the very least considering to do just a semester abroad. Life is all about getting out of your comfort zone, and this entire year proved to me just how rewarding that can be. When I look back on the year I had in Wilmington, all I can do now is smile and laugh at how it almost felt like a year-long holiday. If you’re so much as even considering it, I implore you to take that leap of faith.