7 Must-Dos on your year abroad

1. Make friends with other exchange students.
Despite the initial awkwardness, the other exchange students and I formed a close-nit group. They can be there for emotional support because they understand the pressures of adapting to somewhere new.

2. Make friends with the locals.
Obviously you should get to know people who actually live in the country you are visiting to a. understand the culture better and b. make contacts should you ever visit again! I made good friends with a girl in my German class and she invited me to her house for Thanksgiving, which is something I had never experienced before and therefore I was more than happy to accept the invitation. For anyone that doesn’t know, Thanksgiving is essentially a holiday where you get to eat loads of food – which was great! Which brings me to my next must-do:

3. Embrace native traditions.
This is your chance to see how the other half live. I recommend going to sports games: I have seen baseball and ice-hockey and I’ve heard that American football games and a basketball matches are really fun experiences. I also suggest trying some of the fast food that we don’t have in the UK, but don’t indulge too much; it can be very easy to eat badly in America.

Elspeth with her friends in Binghamton

4. Travel!
Make the most of your weekends or short breaks: get a group of people together and see the sights. So far I have visited Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and New York City which has been brilliant! This would be so much harder to do if I wasn’t living in the US so even if you are worried about expenses, make the most of where you are! Because what are the odds you will be in such a perfect position again?

5. Attend campus events.
I think it is important to immerse yourself in life on campus. Firstly, go to on-campus events; there were loads of orientation events at Binghamton (and there was always free food and t-shirts!), there was even a fun-fair. I also attended a talk by Nev Schulman from Catfish: the TV Show which was very cool. Secondly, I would recommend joining a club or society. This is one thing I didn’t do last semester and I wish I had. It can be a good way to get exercise or make friends. My friend joined the field hockey team and made loads of American friends and had the chance to compete all over the state.

6. Enjoy all the compliments on your accent!
“Where are you from? Are you British? Oh my god I LOVE your accent. I wish I spoke like that!” Never gets old.

7. Skype home.
Remember to take a little time out of your busy schedule to keep in touch with your friends and family at home. I think it is really important not to lose touch with people who are important to you, and keep up to date with everyone’s gossip. On the other hand, try not to talk to people at home constantly and forget to live in the present. Make the most out of your year abroad, even if you are feeling homesick.

The 101 survival guide of being an exchange student – part 2

So a little about the logistics! When it came to selecting my host university I only wanted to attend a Canadian university, all the US universities were crossed straight off my list, not because I dislike the US but because I’m a true Canadian at heart, get me some skis, a pint of Molsons Canadian and I’ll happily get up to some Canadian mischief!

I set about ranking the Canadian universities with exchange student places and was eventually told that I had a conditional place at the University of Calgary. So it was decided, I was going to Cowboy Country! In your first year at Lancaster you’ve got to get a minimum of a 2:1 to be able to study abroad. Getting an email confirming my first year results was the best feeling, especially as I was in Belin at the time.

Before I went away the prospect of taking 9 months worth of stuff in a single suitcase (I didn’t want to pay extra for another one because I’m tight), being away from my Mum and my friends as well as being in a ‘foreign’ country seemed very daunting. However, as soon as I started my journey to Calgary I couldn’t sit still, I was so excited I just wanted to get there. I found myself settling in straight away. I honestly had the best time of my life, so I’ve created a 101 survival guide on studying abroad so you can make the most of every opportunity like I did and things that I learned from my experience.

1) Attend all the events during O-week. O-week is our equivalent to Freshers’ Week. Here you’ll meet many freshers but you’re guaranteed to meet many other study abroad students just like yourself. You’ll find that the people that you meet in your first week will be your friends for life. Now I’ve got contacts all of the world, I have places to stay not just in Canada but in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the list goes on. It’s often these other exchange students that’ll want to do all of the touristy stuff with you such as go up the Calgary Tower that Canadian’s have probably done 1,000x before and find boring.

Laura dressed as a banana during O-Week

2) Get in with the locals. Whilst I was in Canada they had two Thanksgiving dinners. I had nowhere to go, it wasn’t like I could fly home for an extravagant Sunday dinner. So I resorted to making friends with Canadians. It wasn’t difficult at all, I just spoke to people in my classes and I soon had a whole group of Canadian friends. Honestly they were so hospitable and warm, my friend’s Mum invited me around on numerous occasions when she’d made too much dinner!  What? I know that I should like a vulture but I’m a student that normally lives off baked beans after all!

Laura's image of Thanksgiving dinner

Please see ‘The 101 survival guide of being an exchange student – part 3’ to find out the other must-do’s!