Things I learned studying (&living) abroad in England… My last post

Bailey’s Café and Tearooms, located on 7 Museum St across the street from the library. Credit: from the café’s Facebook page.
The place is neat and cozy with lots of natural light coming from the big windows, and the food is delicious. Their Cream Tea is my favourite.

I promised in my first post that I’d give you an update on the café that was recommended to us by the Student Union upon arrival, and let me say it is wonderful! I’m passing that recommendation along because it ended up being the place I went to more than any other place beside university. I’d be there multiple times a week and took friends and family for a break as I was showing them around York. Ok, back to the article.

It is few days until Christmas in a long year of mostly staying where we are. I see the irony of posting about boarding an airplane and going abroad in the middle of a pandemic. But, don’t you think that is exactly why it is good to talk about it? To hope for an open world again, to be able to move freely, or at the very least, escape a little, and talk some clichés.

“Learn a new language! Improve your job opportunity! See the world!”… etc. If you were to ask for a good reason to move abroad for few months, there’s a good chance that one of these answers above would make an appearance. While all these reasons are plausible in the general sense, I always felt that there was something missing, and I think it’s because the real benefits are in the little things that change slowly, but steadily. From my experience, an opportunity to go on exchange should not be missed for these reasons:

People are equal… but different.

It could be that I was part of the English program —which many international students pick— and went to England —a distinctly diverse country— for my exchange semester, but encountering people with varied backgrounds has been one of my favorite things about my experience. I’d classify myself as an introvert, so by no means did meeting different people mean lots of high-energy activities. Instead, I loved the quiet conversations, exchanging stories about where we grew up and what we used to do in our free time.

The Student Union’s café became part of a routine. Every week, Monday 5-7 pm was always reserved for activities and meeting friends I did not share classes with, and getting to know new people.

While underneath everything we all share an undeniable humanity, getting to know how the differences between mine, my friends’ and acquaintances’ circumstances have shaped a unique journey for each of us is nothing short of refreshing. It was like new life perspectives just few conversations away. The weekly meetings we used to have at the Student Union’s café were especially great, and something I looked forward to every week, because the chance to sit with new people and get to know them is something we can’t just order online or routinely have in the background. It always felt fresh, and that made the hard parts of moving, such as missing family or feeling homesick and far away, feel easier.

Of course, we can’t overlook the hassle of moving countries, which turned out to be even bigger and messier than I thought it was going to be. Documents to print, fill & send, visas, lots of back and forth emails, etc. It gets hectic, but despite it all, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat, and I hope you do too, because you come alive seeing the world with a fresh eye when you meet someone who’s different from who you know back home.

The added responsibility of living alone is not that bad

I found the new routine of having to do everything myself to be freeing, since it allowed me to make my own schedule and fill it according to how I wanted, instead of being a burden. That part of being independent is probably what surprised me the most, since I thought it needs adapting, but found it so automatic. Of course, if you already live on your own in Sweden then you’re familiar with the situation, but if you’re not, don’t worry. You may find it to be the least of your worries. It really is true that what you may think is the problem turns out to be trouble-free, and what you thought is easy ends up being complicated (like getting the paper work done).

The benefit on your CV from having an international experience will show on your face first.

When you come back, it’s true that having been abroad benefits your job opportunity, but why skip ahead. Have you ever been next to someone who has just come back from a trip or travels a lot? Then this situation will sound familiar. They start talking about it and couldn’t stop. From the journey to the airport until they came back. The flight, the hotel, the food, the buildings, not sparing a detail. And you wouldn’t want them to, because you see their faces light up with excitement as they speak that they just take their phones out to show you the pictures and videos they took.

That’s what you get living abroad. Except it’ll be more than just few hours worth of conversation. You’ll remember things at random and text your best friend about them immediately, and other things that will stay with you when you come back. I remember I took a spontaneous, day long, why-not roadtrip to Yorkshire Dales with my cousin when she came to visit once, and to this day it’s one of the best days I had that I speak of often. We were a small group and had a great driver who told us fun information about the places along the way and took us to the best places that he knew from experience. Also, I tried Yorkshire Tea for the first time in a little café in York and now that I’m back home I get mine from The English Shop in Malmö because I don’t drink any other type anymore (don’t laugh). It may sound like these little nuggets are trivial, but I’d argue that they are memories in the making, and in today’s world, these seem to be worth increasingly more. Don’t miss out on them while you can.

Little dinky cafés such as this are the most unique thing; every place has its own design.
This was in a little village we stopped at during the road trip.

■ The journey will end, likely faster than you think.

The way I know this is both funny and heartwarming. It was during an afternoon lecture of one of my favourite courses that I studied. We were working individually like we had gotten used to for the previous few months, when the teacher suddenly said “Ok everybody, thank you for these past few months. I wish you the best in the future. Finish your work and pack up because, as you know, today is our last lecture”; I was so taken aback that I thought he was either joking, or speaking metaphorically, that we wouldn’t have more lectures but would surely still come to class for, I don’t know, practice or a seminar? Nope. Last class; finito. I felt like time was stolen from me, and then had a laugh that I actually wanted the course to go on for much longer, which is a weird feeling if you’re a student —a creature who never wants classes to go on for long—. I realised at that moment that I had been so present I lost track of time, and that York’s journey has ended. Bittersweetly.

Just like this one. We’ve come to the end. This is my last post and it’s been a wonderful journey being an editor on the site. I learned a lot while trying to put this adventure in writing, and I hope that the pieces entertain you and help you make an informed decision about going abroad. Say yes, take risks and live your best life. Good luck! 🙂

Mafaz

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