Hi I’m Emma Griffiths, I am in my final year studying American Studies and I spent my year abroad at Middlebury College in Vermont, USA.
Whenever anyone asks “so, how was your year abroad?” a gigantic grin automatically springs across my face. As all the memories come flooding back, I find myself humbly nodding and smiling like the Churchill dog as I reply “challenging, but incredible”. This is pretty much all I can say as it’s so difficult to wrap all the experiences, memories, emotions and what I have gained from it into one reply. My study year abroad was the best year of my life (so far) and I achieved so much more than I expected and anticipated, but boy was it hard at times!
I attended Middlebury College, which is a small liberal arts college located in the Champlain Valley in Vermont. It is a campus institution which means everything is all in one place. This was wonderful for when we first arrived and had to try and work out where we were supposed to be going for all the various international orientation activities. Once I had my bearings I realised incredible its location was. Every day, I would walk out of my halls of residency and be struck by a glorious view of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Then I’d head to grab some breakfast before my class and BAM! There were New York’s Adirondack Mountains. This beautiful landscape was only added to when fall (autumn) set in Vermont, the leaves on the tress turned to colours I didn’t even know was possible! The brightest shades of Orange, Yellow and Red lit up our campus; it was breathtaking to say the least! Then the snow came and Middlebury became a glittering white haven, where snow boots were a necessity to get to class. Though, much to the frustration of some Midd students, there wasn’t quite enough snow that winter to take advantage of the local ski slope. Dammit.
Midd’s beauty can only be equalled by its intense academics. I was warned about this before I left and was happy to take on the challenge; I just underestimated how crazy it would get. All nighters became a necessity, caffeine was a must have in my daily requirements and lots of it! Even though I was punching out roughly four or five assignments a week and reading in excessive of a hundred pages a day, the classes that all this work was for were incredibly insightful. I studied everything from Shakespeare to The Godfather, Twitter to Robert Frost, 1920s freak shows to Harry Potter. Every class was fascinating for their own reasons. Of course the professors themselves can’t be forgotten as they made this intense work load enjoyable! Despite most of them being acclaimed authors, activists or political figures they were all so easy to talk to, about everything and anything. Middlebury was an intense place to study, but the rewards you receive from the hard work you put in are unquestionably priceless.
My year abroad wouldn’t have been as rewarding if I spent all my time studying (sorry UEA). It is the recreational activities I participated in that really allowed my confidence to grown and my personality to shine through. This I will be forever thankful for as neither have left me since returning home. Hosting and producing a radio show was one of the best things I did while at Midd, it gave me access to the college music archives (my iTunes library is so thankful for this!), and also allowed me to share the best of British music with a whole network of people. It was great to hear the responses from fellow students but I really felt I’d hit the big time when a man emailed in from California saying he tunes in every week and loves the show. If someone from the other side of the US tuned in, I felt we were doing something right! I was also a part of a photography group which allowed me to travel all over Vermont meeting new people and snapping all kinds of things. I even managed to get some pieces exhibited at a local event.
These experiences seemed fairly insignificant at the time, I enjoyed them don’t get me wrong, but since being back home in jolly old England I’ve had the chance to reflect on it all and realise how much of an effect my year abroad had on me. Like I said before, my confidence has grown astonishingly. Where before I might have been daunted by something I now feel I’ve already done an extreme version of it so I needn’t worry. Train journeys are a small example of this. It takes me about three and a half hours to get home to Birmingham from Norwich, a journey I used to dread before. However since America where I faced my train breaking down meaning I had to lug two giant suitcases and my backpack over railway tracks to get onto a replacement train, and then continue on my thirteen hour journey from Washington DC to Burlington, Vermont, no train journey will ever faze me again.
And it is that right there, the ability to have a story or an adventure to share when I talk about all kinds of things, but in particular elements of my degree I have studied. I can now say “oh I actually went to that place” or “oh I saw this happen in…” My degree, and myself personally, are both so much more enriched because of the study year abroad. I have barely touched upon what I truly gained through the adventures and the experiences I had because, as the cliché goes, words can’t express it. I found it really difficult at times to juggle the immense work load, the want to socialise and the homesickness. But although at times, one of these emotions took over more than the others, you get through it, and that’s the best feeling ever.