Kylie Macznicz studied abroad in Brighton, England for the 2017-2018 academic year. In this blog, Kylie talks about making new friends, branching out from her traditions and what she learned during her year abroad.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Brighton?
I chose to study abroad in Brighton because I wanted to go abroad without necessarily learning a new language. I’m in the process of learning Polish and, at the time, Poland wasn’t an option to study abroad (however, it is now). I decided I wanted to stay in Europe for travel reasons, and I decided on England. When it came time to choose a city, I figured London would be too hectic and expensive. I did my research on the other options, and Brighton seemed the most colorful and youthful.
What surprised you about Brighton?
Brighton is like a British San Francisco, and I wasn’t really expecting that. The architecture was unique, the art scene was massive, and the nightlife offered something new and special. Yes, there were also homeless people on every block, but I never felt unsafe walking alone at night. The Lanes were probably my favorite part about Brighton. It’s a collection of narrow streets lined with quirky shops and cute cafes. You can get the most unique and inspiring souvenirs there.
Why did you choose to study abroad a year?
I decided to study abroad for a year because I was craving some change in my life and wanted to take a big step. I remember at my study abroad orientation everyone I knew there thought I was crazy for going for a whole year. Even when I was in Brighton, only about five people were yearlong students.
Why do you believe studying abroad for a year is more beneficial than a single semester?
I feel you don’t get the sense of feeling like a local when you’re only abroad for a semester, and you also have less time and opportunity to travel. I also ended up meeting my closest friends I made abroad in my spring semester that I never would’ve met if I was there for the fall semester. Having both semesters really gives you time to break out of your shell. My first semester, I was only friends with the other USAC students because we were all new together and all had arrived a couple weeks before the British students. By the time the other students came, we had already established friendships and comfort groups. When all my friends had left at the end of the semester, it was time to make new friends. The new bunch of USAC students had already bonded with one another by the time I came back from Christmas. I had to find a new way to make friends, which led me to join a music club and make new friends. But at the same time, I didn’t try to do everything in the first semester because I knew I had another semester with plenty more time to explore.
What were some of your fears about studying abroad for a year? How did you overcome them while abroad?
I was most nervous about making new friends. I had barely any contact from anyone in the program before starting, so I was unsure who I was going to meet. It was a scary thought to think that I would be alone in a foreign country thousands of miles away from everyone I knew and not make a single connection. Luckily, everyone is in the same boat and we all explored the town together. We threw a party to meet everyone and from there we exchanged information and made a group chat.
The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to not be afraid to ask someone to join you in something, especially since everyone is new and probably wants to explore the same things as you.
How did you manage homesickness?
The hardest parts about being away from home were not seeing my boyfriend or my dog. I just had to schedule times to call or Facetime my boyfriend and family. We would try to talk at least a couple times a week. I also had photos of all my friends and family to post on my pin board in my dorm room. I started to feel more homesick during the spring semester after seeing everyone again when I came home for Christmas. The best thing to do is try to stay busy to not think about it. I’d try to spend as much time with my other friends and enjoy where I was while I was there. I also had my sister fly to visit me once in the fall and another time in the spring. It was so fun to be able to show her around the town I was studying abroad in and be able to travel to other places in Europe with her.
In what ways were you pushed out of your comfort zone and how did that help you grow as a person?
There were so many ways I was pushed out my comfort zone. Being put in an environment where it’s crucial to make new friends really taught me how to interact with new people I meet. Before, I would stick with the people I had known forever. It was time to make friends on my own, a skill I’m grateful to now have acquired. The British schooling system was also a huge hurdle I had to face. Teachers did not like the ideas I had or my writing style, saying it wasn’t appropriate for a British audience or it was too informal. I was thankful my British friends were willing to assist me to ensure I was completing assignments properly. It was frustrating at first to be rejected so many times and not have any guidance, but it has helped me broaden and define my writing style, which is crucial to my major.
What did you learn about yourself during your time abroad?
While abroad, I had to share a kitchen/living area with five other people I had never met before. It definitely wasn’t a perfect situation, and a lot of fights broke out regarding the shared space with several different people. Before this, I had just lived at home. Now that I’m back in the United States and planning on moving out soon, I have a better understanding of how I like to live and what aspects I want when it comes to my accommodation. A lot of people like to go out and party while they’re abroad, especially since it’s legal if you’re over 18 and its often people’s first chance to experience the nightlife. I liked going out but realized quickly what group I belonged to in regards to partying. I eventually met friends who enjoyed the same things as me. The experience taught me to find friends who share more of your interests rather than try to adjust to someone else’s interests to fit in. It may sound obvious or cliché, but when you’re abroad and don’t know a lot of people you figure it’s better to do something you don’t particularly enjoy than be alone. Everyone goes through the initial excitement of the party phase when they first arrive at a new exciting place such as Brighton, but it’s important to find people past that who will stick with you.
What was your favorite class and why?
My favorite class was probably Creative Writing. It was most suited towards what I’m passionate about. However, it wasn’t what I expected it to be. I’m used to guidance when it comes to school by the teacher, but in England, you’re left to your own devices. Teachers don’t really explain what they want from you and it’s a bit of a guessing game. I was definitely unprepared for British University, which I wished my teachers understood more. Nonetheless, I was happy that the class didn’t require additional work or weird fluff pieces. It was exactly as the name suggests: pure creative writing of your own. I enjoyed the opportunity to share my writing and hear criticism from my peers. I know sharing your work is nerve-wracking, but it actually instilled confidence in me and allowed me to improve. An important thing to note, however, show up to class. I would ditch this class a lot because it was early in the morning and simply just self-writing and sharing. But when it came time to the final, I lacked the comments from my peers that I needed. I still did well, but it would’ve been easier if I just set my alarm.
What advice do you have for students debating whether to study abroad for a year?
There are serious pros and cons for studying abroad for a year. It does give you the chance to have that extra time to travel and meet people, but you never know how the year will go, who you’ll meet, and what will happen. Honestly, the best time to study abroad is spring semester. You will have the chance to spend the holidays with your family before you leave so you won’t miss out on that. You have more time to travel given spring break and summer, and the weather will most likely be nicer since things are warming up. The fall is alright, but you get fewer breaks to travel during the school year, the weather is getting worse, and you have a limited amount of time to travel after your program ends because you have to return to school back at your home university shortly.
I also feel like the culture shock of returning will be worse because of this. And, finally, a year is a huge commitment that is really a gamble you’re taking. I am both happy and upset I was away for a year. Happy because I was able to become close with my new friends during the spring but upset because it took me away from my regular routine life back home that also needed attention. I now have more lost time to make up for in regards to savings and schooling. It really depends on what you’re comfortable doing, but if you’re only considering a semester I recommend spring.