I am finally here in the land of dreams near the hills of stars. It has been a journey and a half to get here to embark upon my year abroad, which is only just beginning. It hasn’t been the easiest of roads; in fact, it has been hurdle after hurdle.
This is my first blog post, and I wanted to use this opportunity to reflect on how far I have already come and so much that I have faced.
I am currently sitting in my new dorm room (yes, super weird term) waiting for my new roommate to arrive. What better time to reflect on where I am right now.
My road started well over 3 years ago. I knew when I was applying to university that a year abroad was what I wanted to do. Full stop. I was not going to let anything get in my way. So, because of their study abroad programme among many other factors Southampton was the place for me.
I always knew I wanted to explore Canada or America, but it wasn’t until I went to my first year abroad meeting in the November of my first year at Southampton that my heart became set on Canada. After listening to one of the boys who had just returned from their year abroad in Canada, I knew it was the place for me.
Thinking its odd that I am talking about my absolute desire to go to Canada yet here I am in LA California…. Don’t worry I’ll catch you up.
So my first year in Southampton flew by and I obtained the grades I needed to compete for a spot on year abroad. WOOHOOO all was in order!
If you could imagine that annoying person that was always emailing and dropping in on office hours… yeah that was me. Over the first few months of my second year I spent a lot of time preparing for my year abroad… yes, in Canada.
How warm will my coat be?
What are the cost flights?
Do I like the modules offered by these Canadian Universities?
How will I fit my pillows in my bag? Will I need to vacuum pack?
Night after night I would contemplate these questions. So the time came for my to write my personal statement and order the universities in preference of where I wanted to attend. Let me give you a little insight into these preferences…. They went …. Canada …. Canada…. CANADA.
And so, December went by and January and February….
FINALLY, ITS MARCH I CAN SEE THAT I AM GOING TO CANADA!!!
We regret to inform you that unfortunately we have not been able to place you at any of your preferred universities.
HOW COULD I NOT BE GOING TO CANADA!
That was it. I was almost certain that I wasn’t going on my year abroad. All I had dreamed about for the past year had come crumbling down around me. I was just gutted. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t finish my essay. I just couldn’t see how I was going to go on my year abroad….
And so more questions flooded my mind…
But how am I going to stay at university and do my dissertation next year I am not ready?
Where am I going to live now all of my friends have signed up for their 3rdyear houses?
Why did I bother getting a job to help pay for the expenses for my year abroad for the last term and now I am not going?
As you can probably already imagine, I am just a little bit of a worrier and over thinker….
Just a little.
And so., life did not come to a stop after that day, life went on. I spoke with the lovely ladies in the international office, and they very kindly fed me chocolate while I wept inconsolably about my destroyed dreams. But after calming down I received the correct advise and carried on with my process of going on a year abroad.
It wasn’t easy or quick. Eventually after many discussions I was offered a place at Whittier College, LA, CALIFORNIA.
While I still had my fears, being even further away from home than I would be in my beloved Canada, on a smaller campus than I was used to. After coming to the conclusion that having palm trees on campus and Hollywood on your doorstep wasn’t all that bad, Canada was soon forgotten.
Whittier College had never been on my list of universities abroad to consider. It was a brand new link that the Southampton had very recently formed. As the person I am (the one who likes to think that going first is the best) I was quick to hop on board the journey to my new destination, without quite knowing what was in store for me.
While its great to be the first I had no idea how hard it was going to be.
I had to face many challenges to get to America.
I want this post to highlight that going on a year abroad isn’t an easy procedure and it really does require dedication to the process.
It was obstacle after obstacle…. I cried spontaneously many times about how I felt the process kept knocking me back while my family supported my the best they could, these were not problems they could solve.
Let me put it the way the process is hard and expensive. I won’t create a huge list that will drown you in despair but just 3 of the main issues I faced that I was not prepared for.
- Paper Work
Not just for your home university but for your host.
- Risk assessment
- Class registration
- Financial documents
Just to name a few. Yeah American websites are easy to navigate…. Right? …. WRONG. If you type in accommodation you will not get the information about what room you may be in…. you will get information about disabilities. (Americans call it housing btw). While these may seem like little things, when you are trying really hard to do something and you cant find what you need, you will find yourself yelling or crying at your screen over these little things.
THIS WAS A LONG EXPENSIVE PROCESS
It took the university 3 attempts to send me over the correct F1 Visa that I required for my stay. In order to get a visa interview (which you have to pay for) you are required to complete and pay for your SEVIS documentation.
In order to complete all these steps a computer is required and the American embassy website only works on certain search engines. While all these problems are manageable, for me I was lucky and had a left enough time to navigate all of these unexpected hurdles. Regarding America in particular this process is essential.
I was not aware of the extensive requirements I needed:
- Valid Passport
- Visa Interview in London
- Proof of intention to return
- SEVIS documentation
- F1 Visa documentation from host school
I wish I were aware of all these steps so I could have been better prepared to tackle these issues. But here I am in LA so it is doable. It has taught me to read up even more on what you are signing up for. These tricky forms have also taught me important skills regarding paying attention to detail.
- Health Vaccinations
Now I am not sure if this challenge is important for trips to America in general but it was important to Whittier College.
As a Whittier College student I was required to come to the university meeting certain health criteria.
My first step is to visit my local GP to receive my immunisation record and upload this online.
Once the university realised what I was missing I was required to travel up to London to a private clinic to receive the following:
- Hepatitis B
- Varicella Blood test
- QuantiFERON blood test
Again, these were not cheap, and when I signed up for year abroad I was not aware of the additional costs.
So …. Finally my rant is over.
I had met all the requirements in time of my departure date and I was good to go.
All apart from one little thing…
No matter how excited you may be to embark on a new adventure saying goodbye to friends, family and the things you know is always hard. (Well it is for me, as I am not made of steel).
WOOHOO I had a party the week before my departure to say goodbye to majority of my friends and family and to celebrate my 21stearly. It was a great day and everyone was in high spirits. I would highly recommend having a party or a small gathering before you leave to have a good ole send off.
Saying goodbye however to your nearest and dearest is a different issue. Lets just say a G&T HELPS. This was really hard for me. Even though I would classify myself as independent, I do rely my family a lot for support.
So a few tears and 5½ thousand miles later… I hoped off a plane at LAX.
I was lucky enough to be able to travel out a week before my international orientation with my dad (I had too much stuff to go alone).
Flying out with my dad was a great relief. It was so nice to have a familiar face. The airport was new to me and many other problems that we faced regarding hotels and travel was much easier to overcome with someone else. I know that many students do travel out alone, but for me that was never really something I had ever considered.
My week of fun and adventure soon flew by. I had found myself feeling a little bit distant and removed from what was going on. I was not my usual bubbly self. While my dad was literally superman, carrying fridges and putting up with my mood swings… I just felt a little out of sorts.
Even now I don’t really know why I was feeling this way, but I just listened to my body and went along with being a grumpy bit*h for a few days (not pleasant I know, but I just couldn’t snap out of it.).
I moved into my dorm, I had never shared a bathroom before let alone a ROOM! Super weird experience. But I put up my photos, got a few luxury items to make it feel more like my own little space that I can call home for the year.
While there is so much I could add to this blog regarding friends, international orientation and classroom expectations, I feel that is for another time.
Already, this process has given me a better understanding of the international students at Southampton. I had never considered the journey they had gone through before they got to that point. When it came to sharing a house should I have offered the largest room to the student from Singapore YES, TOTALLY, DEFINITELY! Should I have made more effort to include international students into the things we were all doing? YES. Should I have tried to better understand other cultures…. YES. I feel silly for being so caught up in my own life. However, life is all about learning, as this was a lesson learnt the long way.
I wanted to go to Canada and I couldn’t… was I disappointed? Of course, but that’s life. Did I ever imagine that I would be here 30minutes away from downtown LA waiting for a complete stranger to come and share a room with me for a year? Definitely not – but here I am!
I am super excited to embark on my year abroad here at Whittier. Was their orientation super extra… did I look around and think WT** have I signed up for YES… but its America. I have learnt so much already, and already feel like I am learning to accept and embrace that in different places they do things differently.
I came here to learn something new and grow as an individual, which I feel I am already doing. I am not here forever so why not spend this year loving American life rather than hating on the fact it’s different.