Whenever you read about someone’s year abroad, they recount the happy times and fondest memories, as to not scare you into what may be a harsh reality. There are times of homesickness, which can last or be over in a flash, but for the most part the year abroad really is the most amazing time, and a chance you shouldn’t pass up. But, what should you do if it doesn’t all go to plan?
Say, for example, you find yourself in a scary situation with your new housemate in the early hours of the morning? From experience I can say: stay calm. I have realised I am capable of much more than I had given myself credit for. I learnt, and so can you, to do all you can to work through the difficult times, but if it gets too tough, those in the Study Abroad Office are ALWAYS there when you need them. Whether it’s a friendly phone call to just cheer you up, or to send an email to your exchange university – they’ve got you. Because of that support you realise your own strength, so the next time you feel like you’re in a mini catastrophe (what do you mean I’m only registered for one semester, I applied for two!) you can handle it on your own, calmly, and feel great about yourself for it.
St. Louis (STL) (pronounced Saint Lewis, not Louie – you’ll give yourself away as a tourist in a split second if you say the latter) is a truly beautiful place. It’s not often on a tourists radar, which was why it so appealed to me. I wanted to have the true American experience, so I chose the mid-West, and somewhere which just ‘spoke to me’ when I read about it (as poncey as that sounds…), and that place was the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL), I can honestly say that I made the right choice! Although it is near impossible to get around without a car, the university provides weekly shopping shuttles for groceries, and a free metro pass for all students. Thanks to the recent introduction of Uber, trips across town are becoming more regular. Although I’ve been here for 3 months now, I still don’t really feel like I’ve ‘seen’ STL – so in December, before finals, a few of us internationals are taking a ‘holiday’ in STL, exploring it as though we’re tourists, seeing as much of it as we can, especially before the Fall Semester friends leave and head back to Europe.
St. Louis is probably most famous in recent times for Ferguson, but I can assure you is a lovely place and not at all as scary as the media paints it to be. The recent Mizzou race-relations scandal, with the resignation of the President and Chancellor, not only affected Mizzou, but also under the umbrella ‘University of Missouri’ – St. Louis. I see elements of similarities between UMSL and UEA, supporting the community, protesting university fees, putting student satisfaction at the forefront, so being here I do feel like I’m at a home away from home.
More than anything that being in America has taught me though is I am growing into who I am, an adult (at 25 I think I can legitimately call myself that). I have explored LA, San Francisco, Memphis, Chicago. This weekend I fly to Seattle, and then take the bus to Portland for Thanksgiving. I’m going to Houston for a month over Christmas to see my sister, her husband, and their cat (this is what I’m most excited about, if you have pets, you might find you miss them more than your family!) I have jumped hurdles and succeeded in overcoming challenges that once would have floored me.
Truly, a year abroad is the best decision anyone can make, no matter what your motivations are for doing it. You’ll get more out of it than you ever expected!
Jasmine Daze studies Film and American Studies at UEA