Views from abroad: Study abroad myths and lessons

Veronica Wernicke, Assistant Opinion Editor

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Welcome back lads and lassies to another edition of “Views from abroad.” For my final installment of my study abroad column, I thought it would be worth your while to hear my thoughts on the ways UNC Wilmington could have better prepared me for my semester abroad, as well as a few things I wish I had known otherwise.

One of the biggest — and most annoying — myths that the study abroad office and a few student panel ambassadors tried to tell was that abroad everyone dresses up for class and no one wears leggings.

While I will admit that I have not seen anyone show up to my classes in Scotland in pajamas, as I have seen at UNCW, I have seen plenty of girls wearing leggings and even more people in sporty clothing – the University of Stirling is a top sports college, so it makes sense.

Despite what UNCW tried to tell me, I still packed my leggings because “comfort, right?” I also did not quite buy into this notion that no one – at least in the UK – wore leggings and that they instead always dressed up because that just does not seem practical for a college student.

Another myth I came across in the UNCW study abroad handbook was that I should not need to bring my laptop. Instead, they suggested using the school’s computers on campus or going to an internet cafe. I found this notion to be absurd because I would not be able to get any work done if I had not brought my laptop with me, especially since I live off-campus and internet cafes are not a thing in Scotland. You will waste a bunch of money otherwise.

The handbook also suggested that, when studying abroad, you should avoid looking and acting like an American.

How should American study abroad students act then?

“Avoid clothing and behaviors that will draw attention to you or identify you as an American. Flashy jewelry, shirts depicting U.S. sports teams, fraternity/sorority letters, American flags, etc. should be left at home. Don’t speak loudly, and stay away from American hangouts (McDonald’s, etc.).”

This is ridiculous and even laughable. Plenty of non-Americans hang out at McDonald’s, wear U.S. sports teams shirt – it’s actually pretty popular here – and definitely speak loudly. If anything, these are annoying stereotypes. Also, what constitutes as American clothing aside from U.S. sport teams shirts?

I have not come across any problems when it came to “being too American” while abroad, and my fellow American study abroad friends would agree with me.

American culture exists abroad.

In addition to those myths, there are few things I wish I had known or learned about before embarking on my semester abroad

One lesson I wish had I learned was how to ride the bus and all the rules that accompany it; for instance, asking for a single or return ticket, telling the bus driver where you are buying a ticket to, and pressing the stop for your stop. Now these might seem like common sense to some, but as someone who has never really had to rely on public transport to get around, it would have been helpful for the UNCW study abroad orientation to address it.

I also wish I had known that not every moment, experience, or trip would be perfect or even what I expected. Despite thinking that you wanted to try something or go somewhere so badly, the reality of doing it may not fit into the neat little box you thought it would.

For example, I really wanted to visit Paris because it is a top destination, and when would I get the chance to fly there for any cheaper than from Scotland? And, who would not want to visit the city of love and see the Eiffel Tower in person? While I enjoyed my trip – especially the wonderful warm weather and the architecture – it was not quite the trip I had imagined it would be.

No one tells you about all the people on the street yelling, “one euro, one euro,” while trying to sell you cheap souvenirs – it gets old after the first time.

Maybe it was due to my subpar Airbnb or the fact that I had had a fabulous trip to the Scottish Highlands just days before, or maybe Paris just was not the city for me. Either way, it helped me learn that not every trip or experience is going to be like the movies.

And that is okay.  

If there is one lesson I can bestow on anyone contemplating studying abroad, it is that you should not let the so-called myths hold you back. Just do it. It will be an experience you will never forget and forever cherish.

I am so blessed to have been given the opportunity to study abroad and specifically in the beautiful country of Scotland. I will never forget this experience and I am even happier I got to continuing giving my opinion from the across the pond. I hope you all have enjoyed this column and the voice and style I brought to it. So, thank you UNCW for the opportunity.

 And for the last time, cheers from Scotland!