Feeling at Home Abroad

Most weekends this semester, you’d find me in or around St Andrews, Scotland. Unlike many study abroad students, I have not been doing as much traveling this semester.

Don’t get me wrong: I love traveling and I think it’s a great part of your study abroad experience. Due in part to my limited finances, however, I usually spend my time much closer to school.

It’s possible to have the best of both worlds—with planning

I’m so thankful to be studying abroad with the same generous financial aid that I receive at Wesleyan. I visited my financial aid office on several occasions to hammer out all the details of how going abroad would affect my aid before I left. If you receive any form of financial aid at your home school, I would highly recommend you familiarise yourself with your school’s financial aid policies for students abroad. For me, I knew I’d be paying a bit more as a “non-resident student.”

Last semester, I also saved most of my money from my work-study job on campus for travel and spending money. This bolstered my bank account for the inevitable costs of international travel and living in a country with a strong currency like the British pound.

Most of this money, however, I was saving for a trip in continental Europe, when I visited France, Germany, and the Netherlands by train. I had never been to these countries before and knew studying so nearby was a chance I could not pass up!

Since I am used to having a job during the school year, I looked for ways I might be able to sustaining an income while abroad. Researching my short-term student visa, I found it would not allow me to work while in the UK. Then I discovered IFSA-Butler’s work-to-study program, and I was lucky enough to get one of the positions on offer. This has helped to maintain my living money as well.

With enough financial planning and forethought, it is possible even for students heavily reliant on financial aid like myself to travel while abroad!

A home away from home

Despite my main trip over spring break and another weekend trip or two, however, I’m usually not far from St Andrews. And to be honest, I’m quite happy with this.

It can be hard, of course, to see other students traveling throughout the semester—that sinking feeling that perhaps you aren’t “making the most of it.” But I have grown to really appreciate what this little seaside Scottish town has to offer, and it’s begun to feel like home in just a few short months.

When I first decided to study in Scotland, it was a bit of a promised land in my mind—a new and fresh start for the semester. Then as I boarded the plane for my transatlantic flight, fears of how it couldn’t possibly live up to these high expectations flashed through my mind. Yet, since arriving here it really has. I have loved settling into my new home and treating it like just that: a new home.

It’s the little things

Rather than using it as a base from which to explore other parts of Europe, I have enjoyed engaging more with the area itself. It’s the little things—such as a longer chat with the cashier at the grocery store about how one of her kids went to St Andrews, finding hidden park trails for relaxing walks, or having a usual order at a local pub—that really make you feel at home.

Bonding with other students usually happens rather organically, but interacting with the locals can require a bit more effort on a university student’s part. But that extra effort pays off, as you really get to know the culture of the area more, not just the university’s culture.

Plus, this part of Scotland is so beautiful that walks around town and through the countryside feel as fulfilling as a day full of traveling. Day trips hiking down the coast or visiting the various free museums and sites in nearby Edinburgh vary the routine as well, and further familiarize me with the area, all while still within my budget.

Treating my host town like home also feels like it gives me more permission to jus take time off—whether it’s to read (other than for class), watch Netflix, or watch people playing on the pitches from my window. When my pace of life is already more like that of a St Andrews resident than a traveller’s, I don’t feel guilty unwinding. I don’t feel the need to always be doing something, the kind of feeling I know I often get when traveling.

 

Although it’s due mainly to my tight finances, sticking around St Andrews has had so many merits that I’ve come to appreciate. Most of it is from the state of mind with which I approach my situation. That is, the kind of contentment and peace you can find when you feel at home somewhere, rather than a visitor there.

This is very dependent on your preferences, of course, and what you hope to get from your study abroad experience. Still, I would highly recommend trying to strike a balance between traveling elsewhere and experiencing where you are studying, whatever your situation may be.

I know I already feel immensely attached to this place, in a way that I’m not sure I would, had I spent less time getting to know it.

Chris Cepil is a history major at Wesleyan University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in Scotland at the University of St Andrews in Spring 2017. He is the Content Marketing Intern through the Work-to-Study Program.

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