Reflecting on my First Term Abroad (posted by Jimmy in England)

80 days ago I flew across the Atlantic where I began my 9 month journey abroad. At that time I could only dream of what I wanted my experience to resemble, and looking back on it I firmly believe that it has been everything I hoped for and so much more. I left Oxford over a week ago after deciding to return to UR in order to be with the Men’s Basketball team before winter break. My original plan was to spend the two weeks after term traveling across Europe. I quickly changed that after watching our first home basketball game of the season. As crazy at it may sound, I prefer being with the team more than traveling across Europe during the cold winter months. Plus, I will have then entire spring and early summer to travel, so I decided to move my flight up two weeks and enjoy college basketball. With all of that in mind, I am officially done. Over the last 80 days I have written on orientation, academics, beauty, lectures, challenges, a TedX conference, Thanksgiving, a stomach virus, and end of term festivities. This entry will carry a more reflective tone as I try to encapsulate some of the ideas that I have learned in preparation for my next term. So what did I learn?

I learned that I am in charge of my successes and my failures. I touched on this idea briefly in my last entry and want to elaborate on it. There was a direct correlation between my work habits and my outcomes. When I planned everything and had a specific schedule I felt that I was headed in the right direction. When I failed to do this, I was either behind on my work or scrambling to complete it. This didn’t just apply to academic work, but I realized that it applied to life. In the immortal words of William Ernest Henley, “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” Oxford cut away all of the distractions that I typically used when I wanted to hide from my work. I couldn’t take weeks off in order to cram at the end of term for a final. Every week I had to be ‘on my toes’ and ready to learn. I couldn’t hide in the back of a classroom when it was a 1-on-1 meeting with a Ph.D. discussing the piece that I wrote. They, like the University of Richmond, hold their students up to such a high standard. After going through an intense 8 weeks I can see why Oxford continually produces some of the most important leaders in the world. Simply put, they demand the best out of themselves all the time and they go through a rigorous 1-on-1 academic battle every week. When you consistently do that for years, you develop critical thinking abilities and confidence in defending your arguments. I caught a glimpse of the importance of being able to analyze situations rather than simply memorizing facts. This was my biggest academic achievement during the first term.

I also learned that social interactions have such a strong influence on me. My parents always used to say that our environment, the people who we constantly interact with, is so important to the people who we become. When I arrived at Oxford, there was not one person that I knew. It took me a while to realize the depth of being all by myself 3500 miles away from home. Up until I left for college, there was always someone (family, friends, and coaches) that I knew. When I left for college, there was still familiarity with other friends attending UR and an immediate connection with the basketball program. I realized once I arrived at Oxford that there was not a single person that I knew. I was completely by myself….and I loved it. It was challenging, but made me appreciate all of the amazing friends and family that I have. The old saying about never understanding the importance of something until it is gone carries so much more meaning.

Where do I go from here? I am currently on break until January 10th. I will try to catch up on some rest and prepare for my next two terms. After that I will be back in Oxford until June 15th. In terms of blogging, I will take a break for a few weeks and will return upon my arrival in England. I would like to thank all of the people who have been following while I am abroad. I would also like to thank Chris Klein, Abby Ward, and the entire Office of International Education at the University of Richmond. Not only have you renewed my blogger contract for the 2013 spring semester, but you also may be the best international education department in the country. Am I biased? Absolutely! But, of all the students that are studying abroad, I feel like I was the most prepared even though I had never previously been to England. Other students were upset with the lack of communication or help that they received from their universities and programs in preparation for their abroad experience. Just like everything else at the University of Richmond, your department does things in a first class manner. You don’t allow anything but your best, and it shows. If it wasn’t for the massive amounts of email reminders to study abroad, I would not have applied to Oxford. In closing, I want to say if any students have never thought of going abroad, it is not too late! Go home after finals, relax and think about it. At this time last year, there was not a chance that I would be spending my junior year at Oxford…. Be open to new ideas and I will see you in mid-January!

Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.- Michael Jordan

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