Studying Abroad is Great for Sucky Travellers

Let me share something with you. I’m a sucky traveller.

I don’t have years of travel under my feet. I haven’t volunteered to save homeless children in Africa, and the furthest outside my comfort zone I’ve been is the Red Light District of Amsterdam. I have full intentions of one day saving orphan kids or bottle-feeding chimpanzees in a conservation program, but I still have a lot to learn.

Which is why studying for six weeks in Harlow, England was an amazing jumping off point for me. I mean amazing. This all stems from Monday’s Q&A session about Should I Study Abroad? I’d never go back to being a student at this point, but holy crap, the opportunities for students to delay the real world are outstanding…especially for those who haven’t travelled at all.

Harlow England

The adorable Old Harlow.

I was working a summer job at the public library when I started researching Memorial University’s study abroad programs. I was lucky: Memorial owns a campus in Harlow, England (which, as it turns out, is the sketchiest place in the country). I opted for the six-week summer Geography and Folklore program, and sent in my application. Not long after, I was accepted.

I can’t stress the sheer enormity of this feat. I took out a $10k student line of credit (double what I needed, because I planned on travelling freely while there) and was on my way.

I didn’t know a single other person in my group. My assigned roommate and I hit it off immediately, probably because we liked to drink. We weren’t the majority, however, and several times throughout our stay, residents said, “Gee, you’re the quietest group we’ve ever had!” Lovely. There was also only one boy in a sea of 30 girls. The point is I travelled with a bunch of strangers, and it was awesome.

Anyway. Since the program was designed specifically to send us abroad, I also didn’t have to do much other than pay for the ticket and “study.” For my first time flying, I had about 30 other people around me to help calm my nerves. This support network proved to be the most valuable part of the trip, which I later discovered while freaking out in the London Underground because we had been told to evacuate the train due to a suspicious package (apparently a regular occurrence according to my classmates, go figure).

a fieldtrip through Old Harlow

A fieldtrip through the swamps of Old Harlow.

I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to get around, how to book hostels, or even how to get a stupid Passport. And sure people say it’s great to just “dive in,” but a little hand-holding never hurt either. Trust me.

I also got to see a great deal of England I wouldn’t normally see on my own, and learned more about Gothic architecture and Chippendale chairs than I could ever hope to learn. Or want to learn.

That being said, there’s two things I wouldn’t have done.

1. I wouldn’t have taken out such a large line of credit. There was no need. I think I spent a couple hundred dollars in souvenirs for family and friends. I comfort myself at night by thinking about how those shamrock-adorned shot-glasses are most likely polished and sitting in a fancy cabinet.

2. I would have researched the program better. Turns out I don’t really care for geography or folklore, and scored my lowest grades in my entire degree because I couldn’t be bothered to waste time studying while there were more English beers to try. Immediately after I returned to Newfoundland, an English literature group took over the campus. The year after, it was a writing group.

But don’t regret any opportunity to travel. For many, the real education is what you learn while travelling and living abroad…but the extra credits ain’t bad either.

  • March 09 2011

    that sounds like a wicked opportunity :) I know Guelph had a few travel abroad study thingamagigs… And the very dedicated vet students who really really wanted to travel to developing countries and do good vet deeds definitely had opportunities (program called Global Vets, kind of awesome. . . I did not partake, but still.)

    I definitely appreciate a lil’ hand holding in my travelling, not gonna lie.. my first time travelling any great distance completely alone was on the way back from my first time off the continent :| I was alone in the airport in Paris, had no way of contacting the people I had been in France with, and my flight was delayed 16 hours. I cried. I was so lost and confused. I’m much better at travelling alone now (maybe because of that??), but I still hugely prefer someone else being there who knows what’s going on. This is why I loved travelling to Mexico with 50 other people… ;)

    • March 13 2011

      Same, I’m just more relaxed when someone else is taking the lead. Especially flying.

  • March 09 2011

    Yay for studying abroad :)
    I did one year as a foreign exchange student in high school and 4.5 yrs of uni abroad. Such fun.

    • March 13 2011

      Nice! I kinda wish I had at least left the province to attend university, but NL’s student loans set-up is too good to pass up.

  • March 09 2011

    I always recommend a study abroad semester to anybody who’ll listen :) It’s one of the safest and easiest (not cheapest unfortunatly) ways of going out of your comfort zone with a built in support group of other students that are going through the same things you are. I think this is especially true for people who haven’t travelled to foreign countries before and might be more comfortable with things being organized for them. I made great friends studying abroad, but I also realized that it makes it a little too easy to stay within your group of international friends – not that that’s neccessarily a bad thing, but if you want to make local friends, you have to work at it a little harder.

    • March 13 2011

      That’s very true, travelling with a big group means you’re not so likely to find new friends. But def a safe option!

  • March 09 2011

    One of my biggest regrets is not studying abroad in college. I entered university totally planning on a year abroad in France–my mom had done it, so my parents were incredibly supportive of it. I was accepted into my first choice program in the south of France, and then I realized that I’d come home before I was 21–and all my friends would be. So I decided to put it off for a year, to study abroad the year that I was 20 and all my friends would be 21–basically, because I didn’t want to be left out of the fun of going to the bars. And then senior year rolled around, I was nominated for a major position in my sorority, and I decided that I would just travel after college. And then I got a boyfriend.
    Basically, I missed out on what would have been an AMAZING opportunity because I wanted to party. After getting a job and still regretting my decision, I realized that I didn’t have to waste my life thinking about “what if”–and that’s when I booked my ticket to France. So my life now is kind of my “study abroad” and while I absolutely love it–especially since I’m not pulled down by actual studying–I still think that studying abroad is an invaluable, once-in-a-lifetime experience that shouldn’t be missed!!!
    Sorry for the essay, but you definitely touched a nerve here :)

    • March 13 2011

      Hahaha, no apologies necessary! Funny how that works, huh? That’s why I encourage people to do it NOW…before boyfriends or other plans come along. But at least you’re travelling now. :)

  • March 09 2011

    Neither my partner or I studied abroad during college, either. I transferred schools and he chose his major quite late in the game, so it just didn’t work out.

    It was definitely a bummer, but we decided to go backpacking for five weeks immediately after graduation (like, two days after) in Europe, which so made up for it! We had a blast and caught the travel bug… and now we’re traveling full-time. So in hindsight, I guess everything kinda worked out. :P

    • March 13 2011

      Definitely! As long as you travel, right?

  • March 09 2011

    Sounds like you had an awesome experience. Thanks for the tips. I think if forced to choose between geography and folklore or beer, I’d probably go for the beer too.

    • March 13 2011

      Hahaha, yep, interesting course-load indeed…

  • March 09 2011

    This made me laugh…thanks!! I love that you are a “sucky traveler,” but have a travel blog! Hahaha!
    I had an interview today and they asked me what my favorite vacation was. It had to be the middle east. What I learned from traveling with my mom, who never had a lot of money, is that the less money you have, sometimes the more fun you can have.
    When I was in high school we went down to Mexico (Isla Mujeres) funny enough and my sister and I talked my mom into letting us go find a youth hostile and stay a couple days while she was still in Cancun.
    You know where HOT Mexican boys are??? Youth hostiles. We had to pull on a rope to shower, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way…you have to understand how amazingly HOT these boys were. I would have poured cups of ice water over myself if it had meant that I could spend a couple days with these SO CUTE boys. Did I mention they were HOT??? Misconception of traveling is that you need to spend a lot of money…what I’ve found out is the adventures come to people that are poor…and you can meet HOT boys there!! HOT!!!!

    • March 13 2011

      Hahaha, it’s funny because compared to most travellers, I’ve barely travelled at all…

      Love that story! Staying in a hostel instead of on a resort. Mmmm, Mexican boys.

  • March 09 2011

    Yes, yes, yes! Good advice (and story). I regret not having done a semester abroad when I was an undergrad, but my first adult “solo” trip was with a class through the University I work for. We spent 3 weeks in England studying Shakespeare’s plays, seeing the plays performed and exploring London. It was a terrific way to ease into international/solo travel.

    • March 13 2011

      Hell yeah! God, London was terrifying my first time there, hahaha. So glad I did it with a group…going from St. John’s to there was nutty. Glad you agree!

  • March 09 2011

    I may have to go back to school just so I can travel. You know it’s never too late.

  • March 09 2011

    Come on now Candice….. was the Red Light district in Amsterdam really that far out of your zone…. ;) hahahahaha

    I wish I had studied abroad too
    However I did go on a 21 day tour of France with 40 other students and teachers/mentors and the president from my university and we had art tours and cool stuff like that :)

  • March 09 2011

    Great points Candice! Like you, I hadn’t traveled much, but found a great study abroad program in Italy (for my Italian minor), took out some credit, and was quickly on my way to a summer abroad. And though I am actually STILL paying off that trip (among other student loan debt), it was the best choice I ever made. They make it so easy now to do a study exchange program and I aways rec that travel dreamers still in college look into allll those options.

    Folklore sounds intriguing…but, yeah, geography?

    • March 13 2011

      Agreed! I’m still paying off my line of credit also, but my interest is so low it doesn’t HUGELY affect me. Geography, agh…never liked that one OR folklore. But nice to learn something new, I guess. Like chair designs.

  • March 10 2011

    Dear Sucky Traveler,
    I am not sure how much I suck, but I do remember when the word suck first took my adolescent lexicon by storm. I think it is 6th grade…suddenly, everything SUCKED!
    School sucked, my parents sucked, my grades sucked. Initially I was banned by my sucky parents from using the word suck. Perhaps they felt it held some sexual connotation to vulgar for my young speech, perhaps they didn’t like any slang pronouncement of my distaste towards church, teachers and brussel sprouts.

    You don’t seem like a sucky traveler…however you lack of bottle fed chimps is surprising.

    • March 13 2011

      Hahaha, well, sucky as in “inexperienced.” I love your breakdown of the word “suck,” btw. And I would love to feed chimps someday!

  • March 10 2011

    That’s a pretty awesome opportunity and like you say, there are very good opportunities for students to go and do lots of shit abroad. Drinking included.

    Nice and interesting experience indeed.

    • March 13 2011

      Man, wish they offered a course in drinking. I’d ace it.

  • March 22 2011

    Dude. Killer title. Talk about a hook.

    Wish I woulda studied abroad when I was in school. But I was lower than a sucky traveler—I wasn’t even a traveler yet. So props to you for having the courage to go on a hand-holding mission. ;)

    • March 23 2011

      Hahaha, thanks Lauren! But hey, at least you’re out there now.

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