It’s been over three weeks now since I have returned home from my semester abroad. It’s beginning to sink in but I’ve still been having trouble putting what I’m feeling into words. It seems as if no matter what words I do use, they don’t quite match up to what I’m experiencing. Upon arriving home, I was overwhelmed with several days of familiar faces, hugs, questions of how my trip was, and general excitement to eat my favorite foods, watch my favorite shows, and drive my car. After Christmas, I spent several days relaxing and catching up with friends. As the days passed, I began to feel restless without spending time at the library writing essays or planning where we were going to travel to the following weekend. When I began to work at the coffee shop in my hometown again, I began to experience the strange feeling of familiarity, something I hadn’t felt in months. For about 90 days, I spent almost 100 percent of my time immersed in the unknown, loving every minute of it. I’ve been reading articles written by others who have spent an extended amount of time in a different country and it’s been helpful, though I think that the only thing that will help normalize the indescribable feelings is time.
One thing I wanted to do is make a few notes about things that I would recommend for future students who plan to study abroad at the University of Leicester. It’s impossible to touch on everything and one of the best aspects of this experience is finding things out for yourself so I’ll keep this short.
I would highly recommend to anyone living in Leicester to purchase both a bus pass and a railcard. The bus pass was expensive at £130 (about $197) but proved to be very efficient. We used our bus passes for transport to and from campus, which was about a 15 minute ride from the Oadby Student Village, as well as to the city center for both shopping and to the pubs in the evenings. I purchased the 16-25 railcard for £30 (about $45), which was for students. This paid for itself within just a couple trips on the train because it gives you 1/3 off all of your rail fares. Just make sure to always remember the railcard when you ride the train because without it you will be charged for a new ticket and a penalty fare, which can total anywhere between 50 and 100 Pounds. Also, if you visit London (which you very likely will when studying in Leicester), I would recommend an Oyster Card. This costs a £5 deposit and any money you want to add to the card. Using the Oyster Card is quicker and cheaper than buying individual tickets. Plus when you return the card you will get back your deposit and any unused money that you had previously loaded on the card. Cabs are also everywhere, just be sure to only use legitimate ones that have a working meter.
Food and Housing
I would definitely encourage anyone studying in Leicester to live in the Oadby Student Village and participate in all the activities they have to offer. They really do a great job in encouraging everyone to get to know one another, especially among the first years and international students. I would also recommend getting a catered option. In one of my previous posts I complained about the food but looking back, it was very convenient to not have to worry about purchasing and washing dishes or cooking in general.
With such limited luggage space, it’s important to select items that will prove useful and versatile in many situations. I brought a few pairs of skinny jeans and leggings, a couple sweatshirts, several t-shirts and dressy tops, a few sweaters, and one dress. I brought two pairs of boots (one casual pair and one pair with heels), a pair of tennis shoes, and a pair of Sperrys (all sprayed with a waterproofing solution). I ended up buying a pair of rain boots while I was there which came in handy but I didn’t find to be a necessity. One thing I would definitely recommend bringing from home is a cheap pair of flip-flops to wear in the showers of hostels and even your house or hall if you end up with a shared bathroom. I was comfortable everywhere in my light North Face jacket as far as temperature goes, though I do wish I would have had a waterproof jacket with a hood. I often had to carry my umbrella in addition to wearing my jacket which was not the most efficient when sightseeing.
Communication and Electronics
I chose to bring my unlocked iPhone along with me, remove the SIM Card, and replace it with a new one that I purchased at EE (a major network provider). Pay as you go phones are huge in the UK, which proved to be very affordable. I chose the minimal plan that provided unlimited texts, a few hundred minutes, and a good amount of data. Calls back to the US were really cheap so I was able to call every once in a while if I had a quick question for my parents or needed to contact my bank. I primarily used my data for Google Maps and to send iMessages and Facebook messages to my family and friends. It was nice to have some minutes to use in the UK as well when calling for a cab or a friend. I would also recommend just buying a cheap hair straightener when you arrive because I heard stories of some not working even with a converter. I also recommend bringing a couple adapters. I only brought one and it was frustrating when I had multiple devices that I needed to charge.
I would definitely recommend having a couple different cards to use while abroad. There were a couple times when I travelled to different countries that my debit card wouldn’t work because it didn’t have a chip in it or because my bank suspected fraud so I had to use my credit card. I also couldn’t use my debit card when purchasing train tickets due to high rates of fraud so my credit card came in handy there as well. Be aware of what your bank charges for ATM withdrawals. Most of the ATMs that I saw did not charge for cash withdrawals but my bank charged a two dollar fee for each withdrawal so I usually took out large sums of money at a time, which wasn’t always ideal. Also be aware of international transaction fees when using credit and debit cards.
I know I already discussed transportation a little but I also wanted to touch on traveling in general. Do it. Travel around Europe as much as can while still attending and doing well in your classes. I worried when I first arrived about planning my travels well in advance but I quickly realized that some of the greatest adventures are those that you didn’t see coming. When I first met two of my best friends abroad, we randomly booked a flight to Berlin the night before we flew out. I will admit, I felt a little anxiety when we arrived in Germany, but it quickly disappeared. Flights will be cheaper when you book them in advance, but sometimes you can luck out and find a good deal last minute. I used Skyscanner to check all of the low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. I did take the Eurostar when I went from London to Paris the first time which was nice because it didn’t require getting to the train station quite as early as a flight does.
Well, there you have it. I know I said I would keep it short but I feel like I could talk forever about the joy that comes with studying abroad. I can already tell that I don’t view life the way that I did before I left. When I close my eyes and drift into thought I can feel myself walking across the cobblestone streets and climbing the spiral staircases towards the sky to stare out at hundreds of people going about their lives. I can still hear the hundreds of voices speaking languages that I can’t understand. Travel is the most humbling experience. I now realize a little more just how big the world really is.
A final thank you for following my experiences and supporting me every step of the way!
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ursula K. LeGuin