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University Abroad: My College Experience, St. Andrew’s University

Greetings from St. Andrews! I’ve made it through the first half of the first semester; in just over a month I’ll be on my way home. And while I’ve been fantasizing about my welcome home meal, I’ve also been excitedly anticipating my second semester plans. (A spring break trip to France is in the works as is house hunting with my future flatmate.)

However, my time is better spent gearing up for exams than trolling Easy Jet’s website for European flights. I can’t believe I’ll be packing my bags soon. However, I know I’ll come home wiser and better equipped for my return in January. I’ve learned some things from going to college abroad that probably apply to any college student.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned at College:

1. Take advantage of your surroundings.

While I’m lucky enough to be someplace totally new, where the industrial town 30 minutes away is as foreign (and thus exciting) to me as the national capital, I think it’s important for any college student to explore the new places available to her. I visited a friend who attends Oxford University last weekend. I had a blast exploring a new town and experiencing another version of university life. It was also a learning experience just getting there and back – I took a bus, train, plane, and taxi. The best part of the trip, though, was realizing just how excited I was to get back to St. Andrews at the end of it. The simple comfort of “going home” is starting to become more accessible here, even though my “home” home in Cleveland is 3,000 miles away.

2. Be vigilant.

I am now responsible for my own spending money. Getting my bank statement last month was a little surprising. All my lunches out with friends added up. While I wrote down everything I spent at the beginning of the semester, I got a little too comfortable with keeping a mental (read: useless) tab in my head as time wore on. For the rest of the semester, I will resume my initial good practice (and resist all my café urges).

3. Proofread.

So I have a cautionary tale to share. While writing my big semester paper for my art history course (major teenage stress), I encountered a frustratingly ambiguous guide to the department’s footnoting style. When I couldn’t figure out how to properly cite a source, I quickly typed a choice four-letter word, in all capital letters, into a footnote; I was sure to notice my little “note to self” while in the editing stages. And I did edit my paper thoroughly. Except I missed this one word, of course. My tutor was very understanding and found the whole situation amusing (rather than offensive), but I was mortified when I realized my mistake. Never again.

4. Be a good flatmate.

Recently, two of my other flatmates and I decided to band together to talk to our other flatmate when her behavior gave us cause for concern. It was a little uncomfortable, but I feel so much better having gotten involved. I’m lucky to have three flatmates whom I really enjoy living with. But one reason why we coexist so well must be that we’re willing to step in when we think extra help is needed. It’s comforting on my end to know that my flatmates care enough to be willing to intervene, even when it’s tough.

5. Be proud of where you come from.

Before I got here, I thought that being away from America would make me more critical of my home country, that all of America’s flaws would become more apparent. However, I’ve become prouder of my nationality now that it is something unique about me. (Although not too unique. There are so many Americans studying at St. Andrews that it is sometimes called the 51st state.) I was way more in tune with the presidential election than I ever have been before. And I’m inviting all my friends over for a Thanksgiving feast (really just take-out and movies, but only because I have a test that day and can’t make the usual spread). In a way, I think any college student is away from home in some way (whether out of state or just out of the house) and that experience gives you a new sense of awareness about where you’re from but hopefully a new sense of pride too.

Emma Freer attended Ruffing Montessori and Laurel School in Cleveland, Ohio. Emma gave the senior speech at her high school graduation.

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