STUDY // What my year abroad taught me

Monday, 20 July 2015

Hello there! 
Can you believe that I have been back from Canada for about 2 months now. Where has the time gone? I really, really wish I knew. I have been working, I've been seeing friends, I have been house hunting (I FINALLY have one and it sounds perfect!) and, of course, blogging! Still, with results being posted (although mine still aren't...grrrrrr) I thought it would be nice to do a little post on a few things I learned during my year abroad. 

A lot of people questioned why I was going abroad, considering I am studying for a Chemistry degree. Honestly, I don't blame them. People assume that year abroad students go to teach English (or insert other language here) or to do research on other cultures. However, that is not always the case. Some people, like myself, like to see new places and push themselves out of their comfort zone. I wanted to meet new people and see new things, whilst working on a degree that I loved under an entirely different system and different academic faculty. 

I am frequently questioned on how my year abroad is going to better my career and boost my CV. Whilst it isn't a year in industry, I have shown that I am independent, have worked within two different faculties (in different countries mind you), I am driven, I am flexible and can achieve in highly pressured situations. I was in a completely different culture (well at least different - not quite completely. Come on - homo milk) and had to deal with getting grades that were on the same level as those students who had actually achieved grades to get into the school. Most importantly, it was something different and that really helped me dig my teeth into it and give it all I had. A year abroad isn't for everyone and everyone has their teething problems and yes, I did too! You'd only have to look at my very early posts to see that I was having trouble! However, with some perseverance and a little support from friends we all made it though. 

This is getting a little bit long winded, so I'll try and start a list.

1. I get by with a little help from my friends
I always knew I was quite dependent on friends when it came to my degree. I like to work in groups to help fully understand concepts. I like to talk about things to make sure there are no holes in my learning but I needed a lot more than that this year. With the heavy course load I had this year (and modules WAY above my prior knowledge) I depended on friends much more than I had ever before (If you're reading this - THANKS SAM couldn't have done it without ya bud) even if it was just to bring me food and calm me down.

2. Read, read, read
Whether it's the 100 pages of text book reading you haven't done the night before the mid term, or blogs, or just a beautifully (or not so beautifully) written book - make sure you read. Everyone needs something that calms them down and reading definitely isn't the worst idea.

3. Talk to people
During my first year of university, I was relatively quiet. Very few lecturers knew my name and my grades were pretty good. During my second year I became more vocal and my grades improved. I moved it up a notch for third year and, again, it made such a difference! I honestly have no clue how I'd have passed this year if it wasn't for lecturers being incredibly helpful. 

That doesn't just stop at lecturers - but classmates too. I was so lucky to find some amazing friends within my course who helped me out whether it be with timetabling, what a question actually means or even which labs to pick because there are certain ones that do not work 99% of the time and you will not get a good mark - period. I'd talk to some people and then others would come up to me in the hallway saying 'You're Rachael right?' and then start talking to me as if they knew me (I'm pretty sure I didn't but hey - you've got to be polite right?). I've never had the feeling like I have connections with so many different people but I liked it.

4. Take a break every once in a while
I didn't do this first semester and I crashed and burned. I wasn't eating (out of not having time!), I wasn't sleeping well and it wasn't until I had a weekend off and decided that this whole working 24/7 was not working for me. I had a much heavier course load second semester but did so much better because I took breaks. I'd go see an ice hockey game or go to the pub or even go shopping! Oh, and the parties - all of the parties.

5. This leads on from the last point but, GO EXPLORING
What's the point in being somewhere if you haven't seen any of it? This doesn't just count for a year abroad. Many people move away from home in the UK for university but how many of you have actually explored outside of your uni (other than the shops and clubs). I'd say to raise your hand in Mean Girls fashion but you're behind a computer screen and no-one will see so I'll save your muscles the work and assume that you probably haven't explored as much as you'd like. Fair?

6. Just do it okay?
If you want that coffee, drink that coffee. If you want to talk to that guy, go talk to him! You want to wear checked trousers and bright red lip to an 8am spec lecture - you do it (not from personal experience). Do what you want to do, when you want to do it (unless it may cause you to become bankrupt or give the authorities reason to lock you up. You don't want that). I guess it's more of a 'don't worry what people think of you' type thing. It's what makes you different that makes you memorable and as long as you are super lovely, polite and don't give people a reason to dislike you they have no right to. Gurrrrl, you so worth it okay

7. Keep a planner/organizer
The more organized you are, the less likely you'll forget about that presentation or assignment. There's nothing more embarrassing when you forget a prior engagement and you've double booked, or you turn up without a piece of work. You don't even need to buy one - just use your phone. I bet there's an app for that (like the calendar app - it's only use is not just to tell you what date it is today, tomorrow or what day of the week your 86th birthday will be).

8. Know when to back down
It's all well and good getting involved with anything and everything, but you need to know when to say no. That essay really shouldn't wait when it's 40% of your grade and the reason you're ditching it is for that society night out at a local club which is going to leave you feeling fragile and you don't even want to go anyway. I know it's harsh, but you need to get your priorities right. 

9. Record the experience 
No-one wants a camera in their face during the entire party but no-one wants to completely forget it either. Take that selfie, capture the human pyramid, take a photo of those pretty flowers. With our phones these days it is so easy to take a quick snap to remember an evening. Why not take advantage so you have a way to remember these things in the future. Could you even imagine how much fun you'll have when you're in your 40s and you're looking over old photos with some gal pals and a bottle of wine. I know right - you can't do that if you have no evidence!

10. and lastly, lows don't last forever
In the words of Passenger, you only need the light when it's burning low. You only notice how sad you're feeling when you've been happy but that's it! You have been happy and whilst you might be having a low point, you've got to remember that it'll get better. You've just got to try and pick yourself up and soon it shall pass (I couldn't have put enough references in there if I tried).

So that's that - a fine list of just a few of the things my year abroad has taught me. It wasn't an easy ride but at times it was darn fun.

Have you been on a year abroad or are about to embark on one? Let me know!


  1. I never had the opportunity to go on a year abroad, but it certainly sounds like yours was one of those life experiences that taught you so much and was more than worth the not so great times to be able to experience the highs! xx

    1. It was definitely worth it! I'd recommend it to anyone given the chance.


  2. I've never spent more than 6 months abroad, but I will do in a few years when my fiance and I move to his home town in Florida. x

    1. Oh wow - I'm sure you'll love Florida! How exciting!


  3. It sounds like this was a fantastic experience for you. I wish I could have done your course at university, I love chemistry and I'd love to go to Canada.

    I think it must take a lot of courage to move half way across the world to study.

    1. It really was! It was the best of both worlds in the end - a lot of fun but lots of hard work too. You can't play hard if you don't work hard.


  4. Going abroad is the best decision you can make. It's an experience like no other to live within a culture different than your own. You take note of various customs, traditions, food, dress, & language. Your experience sounds so enriching. :]

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  5. To me stuying abroad was a huge step in my life. There is a very visible before and after.


  6. Going abroad sounds like such a fantastic experience, I wish I had had the chance. I couldn't agree more with you about making sure you capture it - even if you don't manage to take pictures, write something down about each day so you can remember it!

    Suitcase and Sandals Blog

  7. Fantastic post, I would love to do something like this!! Great pointers <3



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