When I applied to be a foreign correspondent for this semester I did so to offer a different perspective on the whole study abroad experience. I felt that my main purpose would be to inform potential study abroad applicants at the University of Richmond about the benefits of spending a semester (or year) away from campus. My first 5 posts have mainly highlighted the wonderful intricacies that exist in an Oxford lifestyle. I believe, however, that I would be doing an injustice to all those applying for a study abroad position if I did not discuss some of the challenges that also are present when a student goes overseas. Many tasks in life have challenges, but we have the benefit of using them as opportunities to better ourselves. As George Patton once said, “Accept challenges so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.”
When the visiting students were sitting in one of our orientation meetings we were told that by the 5th week of the term Oxford students begin feeling “it.” Whatever “it” meant, we didn’t know for sure, but we could imagine. At the time, we thought that it probably meant the typical stress and anxiety that college students feel during the middle of the semester when they are piled with work. We usually fail to realize how blessed we are to actually be in that position in the first place, but we can talk about that another time. What we failed to realize at the time was that if normal Oxford students felt this way at week 5, then we would probably feel it sooner since not only were we new to the workload, but we were also new to the country. So what is “it”? Well “it” is the combination of many different factors that begin to wear you down as a student and this reflects in your personal life.
The biggest factor obviously is academic work. By the third week, you’ve already written three to five 2000 word research papers, which may not seem like a lot, but it can get to you. That may be why I have yet to travel out of the area; I apologize to any readers if my lack of traveling has hindered your understanding of studying abroad. Most students travel throughout their time, but this specific situation is atypical. Being here for a year, I have less of an incentive to see the world in the cold weather when the beautiful European springtime awaits.
Outside of all the work, the Oxford system celebrates independent learning. There is no mandatory class and individual study is encouraged. I was thinking about it earlier today and realized that I met many of my best friends at UR through our experiences in a classroom (Shout out to Alyson, Lindsay, Meredith, and John). How do you deal with the lack of social interaction at the academic level? You handle it like everything else in life and make it an opportunity. Because most of the visiting students are in their 3rd year of university, many of us celebrate our 21st birthday abroad. There is a lack of significance in turning 21 in England when compared with the ‘right of passage’ as seen in the US. But on Wednesday we went out to a local Indian restaurant to celebrate one of the students birthdays and it was a great time. It’s the little things in life that matter.
Another big challenge is the lack of social interaction with the community. At UR, there are endless opportunities to volunteer in the community and help better the city that we live in. Most students at Oxford do not have the time to volunteer since their workload is so great. Maybe it is being away from home, or the inability to volunteer weekly in Richmond, but I was going through a little bit of withdrawal this week. Again, how do you change that? You make something happen. I decided to email the director of KEEN, a non-profit organization that provides social, sporting and recreational activities for children and young adults with special needs in the Oxford area. They allowed me to volunteer last Friday and so in the afternoon I was able to draw, sing, and play Duck-Duck-Goose with a bunch of kids. It was big time!
99.9% of my experience here as been incredible. But it would be foolish to say that challenges do not occur. I am sure that there have been many more challenges this past month, but like everything else in life, we must make them opportunities. While writing this I realized how blessed I am to not only study at Oxford, but to also study at UR. All of my challenges at Oxford are mere common activities at UR. So for those who are considering study abroad, I encourage it, even though we are all already lucky to be studying at an amazing place like Richmond.
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…. A church…. A home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.
-Charles R. Swindoll