In 2012, recent high school graduate Emma Freer began college abroad at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Emma began blogging about her unique college experience for Your Teen Media. This is where is story begins.
College in Europe? But Why?
The first thing people say is, “Wow! Why?” when I tell them where I’m going to college. My choice to attend the University of St. Andrews in Scotland is unique and maybe even surprising, but the novelty of telling people has lessened. “College in Europe is much cheaper than schools out of state,” I say, “and I will graduate with a masters degree in four years.” “Plus,” I add if they still seem dubious, “I will be able to study specific programs so I can skip over core or gen-ed requirements. Oh, and I’ll be in Europe for four years, just a ferry ride away from Ireland and a channel crossing away from the Continent.”
I applied to 14 schools, nine of which were stateside. And in the end, my decision was largely made for me. I applied to one in-state school, entirely because my parents went there, but I knew I wanted to be a little farther from home. (“Just a little”–Ha. Ha.) In the end, the two American contenders were Johns Hopkins, my first choice from the beginning but not financially viable, and an excellent and affordable state-school in which I had little interest.
Thankfully, I had an inkling this is how it would go. So I applied early in the fall to five UK schools. After writing one essay and spending only 40 bucks for all five applications, I was a much bigger fan of the British system.
By spring break of senior year, I was still waiting on some American schools to release their decisions. But I had heard back from all of the UK schools, and I had four to consider. A virtual tour might be adequate for New England, but actual England demanded a bona fide, presence-gracing campus visit.
Making The Decision to Study Overseas
After visiting, I knew St. Andrews was where I wanted to go. I wasn’t afraid to be alone or so far from home in the small college town; the town of St. Andrews is comforting while also being totally foreign and exciting and sophisticated and connected to so many other foreign and exciting and sophisticated places. I left only wanting to go back.
My mom was with me on the trip and was able to see how I would fit in. And as a foreign language teacher, she values studying abroad. My dad was more apprehensive–it was hard enough for him to send me to college, let alone send me to college in Europe. But, throughout the process, both parents were supportive and forthcoming, letting me know what schools were financially viable and what concerns they had.
I’ve had to explain this whole spiel to relatives, teachers, friends and strangers, who are both excited and concerned about my decision to go so far away. I’m really happy with where I’m going, and I’m excited to be doing something different. But now I have a mountain of worries that never occurred to me until well-meaning people shared them.
How Am I Going To Live In Scotland?
One big worry is whether I’ll be able to understand people – professors, roommates, potential friends. My visit helped to lessen this worry because I learned that St. Andrews has a very large American population where I can seek refuge. Still, the Scots have a very thick accent and a lot of slang that is all Greek to me.
Also, I’ve never been away from home for more than four days. My theory is that I’m just going to have to deal with my homesickness because it’s not like I can hop on a Greyhound. But my theory is probably a coping mechanism, since I just don’t know how I will react to being far away from home.
I went to an all-girls high school, so the whole coed situation–while not specific to St. Andrews – is a whole new can of worms. Practically speaking, I am going to be living in a place where everything is just a little bit different from how it is here. The electrical outlets are different. The currency is different, along with the entire experience of being responsible for navigating a new bank account and accepting money wired across the Atlantic by my parents and dealing with an unforgiving exchange rate.
Getting Ready For Going To College Abroad
I keep having these scary dreams where I’m stranded alone in the Edinburgh airport, I’m missing my winter coat during the cold days on the Scottish coast, or I sound totally inexperienced when I order my first legal drink in a bar, betraying the fact that maybe I’m not ready for college life.
But I suspect a lot freshmen have similar fears, whether they’re European or American or staying in state or going out of the country. At least, this is what I keep telling myself. Really, though, I’m more excited than nervous. And I have other coping mechanisms besides making up theories. I am making an itemized packing list first and foremost, and I have contacts at St. Andrews who are nice enough to answer all of my inane questions.
And really, all of the people who ask why I’m going to college in Europe when there are so many phenomenal schools here in the United States usually follow up with “That’s so incredible,” or “I wish I had thought to do that,” or “What a great idea.” And this kind of enthusiasm is encouraging, and a comforting sentiment to get me through the summer.