I was sitting in a fetish Café in the Mission District of San Francisco, eating a strawberry-cream waffle and watching a shaven-haired man being bound in leather cuffs and suspended from the ceiling (all the better for having his balls tazered by a small cattle prod), when I came to the realisation that a year abroad is really what you choose to make of it.
When it comes down to the bare bones however, writing a single short article about my study abroad experience is something of a tricky endeavour. I recently spent a year at the University of California, Berkeley: one of the maddest hippy-liberal places in the world, across from the beautiful San Francisco Bay. I met some wonderful people and incredible teachers. I went to College Football games and Spirit Days, biked the Golden Gate Bridge, rode Greyhounds across California’s sublimely eclectic landscape, and drank charcoal-laced cocktails in Downtown Oakland. It was the best ten months of my life, and it fundamentally shaped the person I now want to grow into.
Asides from the classic travelling and ‘growing’ experiences, spending a year at Berkeley taught me that if you can find the personal drive to do well, and if you apply that drive to the things you are really passionate about- even if you don’t necessarily believe you can succeed at them- there’s no end to what you can achieve. While studying in Berkeley I set up and ran an independent blog, which I called Berkeley Girl; my posts gathered a fan base and it has now had over 14,000 hits and continues to be read by people in the most obscure international locations. I joined Caliber Magazine, the campus’ bi-annual glossy magazine. Most exciting of all, I was picked up by the American media platform US News and World Report, after applying to them to write blogs about the study abroad experience. Now returned to England I am cheerfully throwing myself headfirst into a variety of journalism jobs, training schemes and internships, with a personal drive born in Northen California.
The incredible application of all my fellow students to their studies showed me that pre-study abroad I hadn’t been using my brain anywhere near as much as I had previously thought; and the passion and commitment of the teachers to their specialised subjects made me more- for want of a better word- interested in life than I have ever been (Sorry UEA. You’re cool too). In a time of hard graft for new graduates, my year in America gave me clarity over where I want to go post-graduation, and hope that my dream of a writing career is actually attainable.
If I had to deliver advice to prospective students I would say firstly that if you are any kind of writer (and even if you aren’t there’s no excuse not to do this) make sure that you preserve as much of your time abroad as you possibly can. There will be hundreds of tiny, superb moments while studying abroad that you will forget almost immediately, and never quite recapture. So write diaries, write journals, and write blogs, because America will deliver you experiences you won’t believe and memories you will never again repeat.
Secondly; try everything once. Even if your endeavours fail spectacularly you’ll walk away with some fabulous stories.
Thirdly; if you’re a prospective student on the fence about Study Abroad- take the plunge. You won’t regret it for a second.
If you’re interested in hearing about my study abroad experience visit my personal blog www.berkeley-girl-2012.co.uk, For general advice and information about the international student experience, feel free to peruse my articles for US News and World Report’s ‘International Student Counsel’ blog. http://www.usnews.com/topics/author/emily_burt