Studying abroad has always been “the dream”: being able to go to a whole new place, gain new experiences, and to enjoy a new chapter of our lives without intense parental supervision. The ultimate life goal, right? There were 5 lessons I’ve learned throughout studying abroad in the UK, and I hope that you are able to take what you need, or relate to these lessons in your own ways:
1. No one tells you about what happens behind closed doors.
And no, I don’t mean to make it sound as suspicious as it seems to play off. I recalled an incident when a lecturer of mine emphasised on the importance of having a good support system of loved ones when we leave for our transfer year, on the basis that it was easy to fall into a depression when you allow yourself to fight on your own. As much as I hate to admit it, that advice did fall onto deaf ears as it seemed like such an exaggeration: is being secluded and having alone time that horrible that it could lead to a depression?
One of the lessons I had to learn was in better expressing how I really feel. When I shared about how the panic got to my head and how I go off the radar when I feel trapped with my back against the wall, I was surprised to be comforted and received with open arms: that I was not the only one who felt that way. Not that I ever doubted that the people around me had their own struggles as well, but I have always been used to suppressing or belittling things that I go through as being ‘lesser’ than the hardships others may be going through. This was my fatal mistake, as I seem to contradict my own advice that I give to others, which is to never invalidate their own emotions. It is so important to be kind because we never know what someone may be going through in their own journey of life.
No one tells you what happens behind closed doors because the life abroad seems to be filled with little squares on Instagram depicting constant traveling, delicious food, and a good ol’ time with friends. While the joy in each and every of this moment may have been genuine, life abroad is not filled with a constant high at all times. No one tells you about the cloud of stress they have hanging over their heads to secure mini-pupillages or vacation schemes. No one tells you about the need to get used to the different standards expected of you when you’re studying abroad. No one tells you about how breaking down seems to be a new fashion statement.
2018 has taught me a lot more about balance. Balancing your studies, deadlines, future plans, having fun, social commitments, friends, and in the midst of it all: pursuing what you love, or at the very least, achieving the end goal that you have been striving towards for the past 3-4 years of your life.
2. You get to make many new friends, but you also get to meet people who are blatant in their pursuit of utilizing you for their gain.
I’ve had friends who studied (or are studying) abroad that have told me of how their circle of friends has broadened to a more ‘internationally inclusive’ circle. Studying abroad has allowed me to expand my inner circle of friends, for I have met friends that I feel are lifelong and friends that I’ve gotten to know more about and trust. Being away makes you appreciate not only the people you meet along the way, but it creates a greater appreciation as well for the current people in your life and your friends and loved ones back home. In many ways, I am blessed because I was placed in a community of people that have been loving and supportive. I was lucky that I had caring people who have been in my position prior, and they have guided me patiently on how I could go about navigating around my place of study, and who were the people I could reach out to if I ever had any queries or needed any help.
However, it is not all sunshine or a bed of roses in the world of friendship. After all, we are all human, and there is always a flip side in everything. It is interesting to note the kind of characters that you meet aside from those that provide you with nothing but genuine love and support. Another type of people that you meet are those that are blatant in their pursuit of gain. Now now, they may not be the most obvious of people – these people themselves are smart on their own, and may even shine on the surface. But these people may only appear when it seems convenient to do so, they only appear when they need something from you or when you have what they don’t. They see your potential, or I would like to call it ‘depicted potential’, and cling on for dear life knowing that you can provide them contacts or something that they may not necessarily be as skilled in. Being in an environment of higher stress, and especially in a crucial year of study, brings out a person’s true character. Be careful of the people you choose to surround yourself with and be mindful of the people who can be open to criticism and those that are not.
3. It is hard work, and procrastination is the devil.
No one really talks about the struggle, or at least even if they do, it is talked about very briefly or in a humorous way. “Why did I even take this stupid module”; “Why is this assessed via exam instead of coursework?”; “If I knew this would happen I wouldn’t have even taken this elective module in the first place.” These are some of the common rants or complaints we see or hear of through our friends’ social media. Humour can be one’s greatest strength, but it can also be one’s greatest defense mechanism. Humor helps us to cope: why not find this immense pain and suffering as an ongoing inside joke instead of admitting how pointless you start to find yourself feeling?
Specifically from the perspective of a law student, saying that you want to study earlier only works less than 50% of the time. “I’m going to study earlier the next time around, I can’t make myself rush through this again”, says almost every student in their previous assessments and almost every student in their current prep for their upcoming papers. The Pomodoro Technique introduced by Francesco Cirillo was something I personally found to be extremely useful to pace my studies better, as my work was split up into intervals. 25 minutes was set aside for my work, and I rewarded myself with roughly 5-10 minutes breaks in between before my next 25 minutes of work start.
There’s a saying that goes, “idle hands are the devil’s playthings.” It rings true, especially when you allow yourself a bit of a break in between studying – and this little break turns into a long break, and before you know it you find yourself losing control of your life. Okay, it’s not that dramatic, but you get the picture. Once you let go of your grasp over your discipline a bit too long, it becomes so much harder to get back into your initial pace. I’m not saying to never stop studying, because that is a little bit insane, even for my liking. Personally, I found that having a planner is useful – for I get to see my schedule as a whole picture, planning out the times I need to complete my work, deadlines I need to take note of, and events that I can fit in to take a break from the grind. This helps me to feel more organized, and planning helps to calm my nerves as it gives me a better sense of control.
4. Those accents and phrases, innit?
I noticed a constant phrase that was being used among the locals: “you alright?.” When I was first asked about this, I got very confused. I immediately patted my backpack, my clothes, and did a quick check over my face. “I’m alright,” I responded, puzzled. Over time I start to understand that it was a general greeting, and it wasn’t that something was wrong with me. In a way it became a source of comfort, as I was used to asking “how are you?” to my friends – this was just that, in another form. Over time, the question of how we are doing starts to become an automated reaction paired with a robotic response. This phrase being ingrained in a culture reminded me, in some ways, to look out for the people in my life more often and to make sure that they know they are loved.
Before going abroad, the older generations in our families have told us horror stories of racism and violence that we may encounter. Personally, I have not experienced intense racism, other than being compared to certain Asian stereotypes and some mockingly trying to speak my supposed mother tongue. Above all, regardless of being abroad or being home, the basic standard should be mutual respect. Not “an eye for an eye”, but rather “treat others the way you would want to be treated.” A standard higher than that would be to “love thy neighbor as thyself”, but I believe that this would be subjective to the cause.
Going abroad has also created a greater exposure to more nationalities of people, and in turn: more accents. Friends of mine had picked up the phrase “innit”, which is informal British slang for “isn’t it”. I’ve also learned to recognize the phrases that are commonly used by my peers, their culture, as well as understanding what is being taught by my lecturers in classes.
5. At the end of the day, God and your loved ones are always your greatest supporters.
Do not doubt the power of being around the people you love. I tried to shut myself out from everyone while I was in the midst of preparing for my finals. Although I needed the room to concentrate while I was prepping, I found myself becoming emotional and even more stuck as my ‘shutting down’ period extended. It’s important to know when you need your own time to do what you need to do, but it is unhealthy to let it get too far. I had to take down a few pegs and learn a lesson or two in humility: learning to ask for help instead of being the one who’s the support all the time.
Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4). I never felt like I wanted to give up more times (or entertained the idea to do so) than in my final year. But God had showed me so far that this was the year I had to conquer challenges, specifically my ingrained perspective of always being not enough. I learned that although there is no place for complacency, striving to be better can be in line with contentment. I learned that my faith was and is one of my biggest strengths through and through and that with Him, I am more and I am enough. I learned that trust, especially broken trust, is a tricky thing. However, I’ve been learning to open up my heart more, bit by bit. I am understanding that pure genuine love, whether it being in a friendship or a relationship, does still exist – and I am grateful to be surrounded with people I can trust.
I have learned to be more faithful in prayer, not just on the bad days, but for the good days as well. In being away, I have become closer in my relationship with God – that in Him I will not falter. There are days where I may feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, but I stand knowing that I am blessed to be alive. I have learned to be more grateful, that everything leading up to my success is a collective effort of an amazing support system behind me who never gave up in my pursuit.
Most importantly, I have learned from studying abroad that home is not necessarily a place. Home is wherever your heart goes: the hearts of the people you care for, the calm you meet in your quiet place, and in the comfort of your loved ones.