During an international student meet-and-greet in September, I had a conversation with a fellow student who told me that he’d studied abroad as part of a Maymester for ten days. I’d never heard of a Maymester before as it’s something the university of Leeds doesn’t offer. Bewildered, I said a polite goodbye and continued to mingle. For the rest of the day I couldn’t get rid of the thought that students participating in Maymesters would have been flying home for good by the time I’d unpacked, found a group of friends and got my head around the fact that my new room in South Quad was going to be my home until May next year.
The point is that you stay in another country for a long time, not only studying in college, but also absorbing the culture through different places and interacting with other students and residents of the country. And when studying abroad lasts 10 days, it is not a fact that the student will be able to fully familiarize himself with the culture, buy narrative essays online on this topic to learn more why this is a questionable experience.
I appreciate that everyone is different, and the Maymester might just suit some people more than others. But I struggle to see how any trip lasting the same duration as a Thomas Cook all-inclusive holiday can be labeled as studying abroad. Having been at USC since mid-August, I’m a different person compared to when I stepped on the plane, which wouldn’t have been the case if I’d been here for less than two weeks.
Rather than having a short, sharp burst of exposure to another culture, students that study abroad for a summer, a semester or a year will notice the transition between feeling like a tourist and feeling like a citizen. When I first arrived here I immediately assumed that everything I saw and heard must have been typically ‘American’. I wrote a blog post solely devoted to new phrases I’d learned and told all my friends at home that ‘this is how Americans speak’. I thought every single American university had outstanding Greek Life and that every single one had incredible football seasons, too. I was uploading grainy Instagram pictures of practically everything that I walked past because it all seemed so novel and obscure. But it wasn’t until a sunny day in my second month here that I was walking to Russell House and stopped in my tracks. It suddenly but surely occurred to me that I no longer felt like a tourist, and actually felt like I could call USC a second home. My initial judgments were based on two weeks of welcome meetings and partying, but being here for 16 weeks has forced me to really engage with and understand the American South.
While the fun, photo-worthy moments of my time in America will be taking pride of place in my photo album, there are a lot of memories from my time so far that can’t be caught on camera. I remember walking into Bank of America feeling like a small fish in a big pond, saying,
‘Hello, I’m from England and I’d like to set up a bank account.’
I’ve bought a terrible second-hand phone that only works on loudspeaker and had no idea in my first few weeks that I had to have my Carolina Card with me at all times to be able to do anything. Trying to get weekly food shops done without a car is a logistical nightmare and learning how to socialize without social drinking has taken some adjustment. Most of all, missing home is a feeling that no amount of Skype sessions can overcome. The hardest parts of studying abroad are often the parts that have broadened my horizons and changed my perspective upon life the most.
So if you’re thinking of studying abroad, do it. I’m yet to meet one person who has regretted their decision to study abroad. But if you’re lucky enough to have the decision between a Maymester and a longer period, then take a courageous leap and go for a summer, a semester or a year. It may seem daunting, but the experiences that it will afford you are truly priceless and will begin the moment you step on the plane.