I studied abroad in Cambridge, England, in the fall of 2018, attending Anglia Ruskin University. I spent some of my early days exploring, punting on the canals near Cambridge University, seeing King’s College Chapel, and visiting Cambridge University’s Botanical gardens. There is a market just off of the city centre that I walked through many times with vendors selling food, flowers, jewelry, books, and old records.
Once the semester began, I travelled about twice per month, taking advantage of the trains and cheap flights between European countries. I flew into Dublin, Vienna, Rome, Paris, Cork, and Edinburgh, hitting five countries outside of England on my short excursions. I visited museums, went to the theater, took some tours, and shopped at outdoor malls everywhere I went, hitting the “need to go” landmarks in each city. I also spent several days in London and visited Stonehenge and Bath during my last weekend before coming home. This trip has inspired me to consider a gap year before grad school, to travel the whole of the United States over the span of several months.
Mine was not a typical study abroad experience in that Anglia Ruskin did not have a separate program for international students. Because I studied at a small campus, I only met one other American at the university, and lived with mostly English students. While there were some events for international students, many of the students spoke English as a second language, and they tended to stick together with students from their home countries or institutions. I met plenty of wonderful people along the way, though, between professors, travelers in hostels, AirBnb hosts, tour guides, and strangers on the street. My trip was not conventional because I’m very independent, and I preferred to spend my time travelling rather than socializing, and to go solo rather than make plans with a group (though most students were EU nationals and thus have such opportunities to travel all the time, whereas from the U.S. it’s a bit of a leap to take a casual “holiday to France,” so I wanted to take full advantage).
Academically, I chose courses that would eventually apply as liberal art courses, plus one concentration course. The style of learning is very different, with few high-stakes assignments and very little class time, much of the coursework calls for independence and personal responsibility. Compared to their system, the U.S. college system offers a lot of flexibility and second chances with the number of tests and assignments that generally go into a final course grade, compared to a test I took in one course in England worth 70% of my final grade!
My advice to those who want to study abroad is to just do it, to find a way to make it work, and go. I’ve known for years that I wanted to go, as I never had the opportunity to do much travelling growing up. There are things that you will sacrifice and things you will miss out on back home, but for that time you’re abroad, you’re investing in yourself. You choose where this experience is going to take you and what you bring home from it.