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Time May 22nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

“This life has been a test. If it had been an actual life, you would have received instructions on where to go and what to do.” –Angela Chase (Claire Danes), My So-Called Life


Even before the IFSA Butler orientation—even before I was done applying to British universities for study abroad—I’d heard the same thing about the educational system here so many times that I felt qualified to teach it: it’s a lot more independent, instead of having lots of small assignments spread out over the year a few big assignments or exams are responsible for your whole grade. (Ultimately, though, judging by the crazed and frenzied approach I took to my exam period, it probably wouldn’t have hurt if I’d had all the explanations repeated to me a few dozen more times.) It logically follows that updating this blog thoroughly now, now that I’ve handed in the last of my finals (I’m still at UEA, though!), is just the most ‘British’ approach I could take.


Okay, I hope that I don’t start giving the impression that I’m unaware of how obnoxious that sounds. However—and I’m not sure if this makes it better or worse—it was one of the actual explanations I gave myself when I was taking a long time to start writing here. My main excuse was that I would keep writing once the semester started. So, I arrived in London for IFSA Butler orientation. Semester hadn’t started. I moved into my room at UEA and emptied my suitcase. Semester hadn’t started. My unpacked suitcase started to fill again with random things like plastic bags because soon I’d been living in my room long enough to accumulate clutter (admittedly, for me this isn’t usually very long). The semester hadn’t started. My internal clock began ticking on Greenwich Mean Time. Classes, people, and the campus became familiar. But the semester hadn’t started, really.


Now, I can count the days I have left on campus. Classes, then finals, have finished and people started going home weeks ago. It seems like the semester may be starting.


It’s not (just) that I was lazy, it’s just that I was waiting to get used to something that has proved to be much too exciting to get used to. Spoiler alert, for anybody who intends on reading later entries (which is happening, I have them written out): this was a really great experience. I am really grateful to IFSA Butler, Amherst College, and University of East Anglia for letting me have this opportunity. Before I left home, I was really curious to read all the archived student blogs on the IFSA Butler website and I found them all very interesting. I hope that writing here about my experience with the study abroad process will give me a chance to offer something to people in the same place that I was.


Things to Think About Instead of Packing

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Things to Think About Instead of Packing by

Three days are left until I take the IFSA-Butler group flight to the program orientation in London, and I’ve just about given up on waiting for things to “feel real yet,” although not from lack of trying. Since my fall semester ended, I’ve been getting more and more excited at the thought that soon I’ll actually be studying abroad. My remaining time has been spent vaguely pondering the accumulating list of things I should already have started. (It might help if I pack the clothes I’m going to bring. Well, I should wash them first. And, before that, it might help to decide which clothes I’ll need. I guess.)


Instead of packing, I’ve been thinking about study abroad. My roommate at school is from North Carolina but studied in Japan during high school. She told me that when she was abroad, she drew a lot more art than she did at home. This matched up with a psychology study I read that suggested living abroad can increase creativity in measureable ways (So, expect to be dazzled by the creativity of future blog posts here.) My parents still talk fondly about the months they spent in Spain when they were both Boston-area undergraduates, and how the exposure to another culture made them more aware of their own. So far, everything I’ve heard is making me more excited.


Like the intimidating pile of laundry in my room, my excitement has had a long time to build up—about three years. During the first week of college orientation, I went to a panel on study abroad where a speaker pointed out that in the real world, you rarely have the option to travel for months at a time and then return to your jobs and finances, both as intact as when you left. As I listened, I wondered why I had never considered studying abroad. However, for most of my life, such extended traveling has been a—I have to say it!—foreign concept.


A lifelong Massachusetts resident, the first time I left New England was the summer before college, when I went with my friend to Europe, staying with her family for two weeks. The trip–and especially England!–left a lasting impression—one I made sure to secure when I made both of us detailed scrapbooks.



I enjoyed reimagining my trip as a coherent story, because for as long as I can remember I’ve loved creative writing. I had this in mind when I looked through my school’s database of study abroad programs. University of East Anglia immediately stood out because of its impressive literary associations (Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro were two of the creative writing graduates I recognized because I love their books). Instead of applying directly, I chose to go through IFSA-Butler because, as excited as I was, the academic and cultural differences seemed very intimidating with my limited travel experience. I felt like I had made a good choice when UEA seemed to have some difficulty processing my application and my admissions decision was released late: the intervention of the program staff helped me feel reassured it would all work out–and it did. I can clearly trace why I chose to study abroad, why I chose England and then UEA and then IFSA-Butler. The most exciting part, though, is the part that hasn’t even happened yet. It still doesn’t feel real.

img_0074 These books all insist the England is a real place, so it’s believable that I could go there. I’m not so sure yet.

The study I mentioned:

Maddux, W. W., H. Adam, and A. D. Galinsky. “When in Rome … Learn Why the Romans Do What They Do: How Multicultural Learning Experiences Facilitate Creativity.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36.6 (2010): 731-41. Print.