Before I left for South Africa many students who had previously studied abroad told me how it was going to be the best year of my degree and to enjoy every minute. Now reflecting back on my third year I can confidently say it was my most enjoyable year so far and I loved it more than I could have imagined. However, a year abroad is a long time and does come with it challenges! In this blog I want to talk about the challenges I faced myself to show people that difficulties are a reality of studying abroad but can be overcome.
Due to Cape Town being a new exchange it was only myself and my now good friend Sofia who went from Glasgow therefore I knew I would hardly know anyone at UCT. As it turned out I was the only exchange student in the majority of my classes. The classes I took were 4th year ones and in all of them everyone knew each other. At first it was intimidating and difficult to talk to people where friend groups were well established therefore integrating with local students and making friends was something that was challenging in the beginning. However, pushing myself and getting to know a lot of people in my classes really enhanced my overall experience because I got to socialise with so many different people during my time in Cape Town!
Very quickly I realised that my Scottish identity stuck out like a sore thumb and I had grown up in a very different environment from my fellow UCT students. I was shocked to discover that barely anyone could understand me and found myself at a lost about how to overcome this. While my strong accent meant tutors struggled with what I was saying so generally didn’t question me, I became very self-conscious as everyone in my class would turn and look in shock as I spoke out loud. Growing up in Paisley and studying in Glasgow definitely shaped me in a specific way and I realised Scots are quite distinct. While I didn’t struggle too much with being home sick I did miss the humour and personalities of people at home. I definitely noticed that my normal banter was lost on some people I encountered abroad.
One of my most personal challenges I faced while abroad was a change in my body. I started off my time abroad with a fractured foot and after spending over 2 months travelling in summer my bikini body was left suffering. I had always been a very active person and wasn’t overly insecure with how I looked, therefore gaining weight abroad was not a great experience. It left me upset and I lost a lot of confidence. After my summer I spent most of my days in the gym and practically stopped drinking and avoided social events. While after many months I did lose weight again it took a lot of hard work. I now really enjoy going to the gym which is a positive change however the experience has left me very weary over the kind of lifestyle I lead.
One of the last challenges that I will touch on is how much more difficult I found it to concrete on my university work. During my first two years at Glasgow I spent countless hours studying for exams and university work generally took over every other aspect of my life. In Cape Town there were so many things happening that I started to struggle with how I was going to get all my work done. Studying abroad took a lot more commitment and but swapping a few beach days and night outs for the library was worth it in the end.
Ultimately studying abroad will throw up many challenges but the best thing to do is to tackle them head on so that you can keep loving your time away!