Reflections on a semester abroad cut short

FULL ARTICLE

By Tom Sherwood, Second Year, History

In light of COVID-19 causing disruption to flights and leading to countries shutting their boarders, one student who had their semester abroad cut short reflects on their experiences, noting how reducing their expectations reduced disappointment.

My semester abroad was unapologetically unusual - everything about it was unpredictable. The semester took me to Boston, Massachusetts for just over two months and now, back in the dazzling suburbia, I can reflect on my experience.

Planning this, I have realised there were many aspects of my semester I didn’t want to write about. I don't want to simply encourage students to go abroad during their degree or write about my course. More than anything, I don't want to write a sob story about how ‘my Gap Yar substitute was catastrophically cut short.’

back in the dazzling suburbia, I can reflect on my experience

Instead I want to appeal to anyone considering a semester abroad to manage their expectations. Time constraints prevented me from having tangible expectations, but, retrospectively, I feel this allowed me to both enjoy the best parts and accept the worst parts of my semester.

If I were to do it again, I would do the same. I would implore myself not to make unrealistic expectations for the experience and not to seek any particular life lessons, but instead to live abroad unreservedly and, in effect, ‘go with it.’

Before going, my only ambition was to enjoy the novelty and seize valuable opportunities. Having no expectations allowed everything to be surprising and taken in its stride whilst allowing, as the end of my semester proved, a greater appreciation for my experience.

Ironically for all the months of admin, I had no vision for America. As a friend has recently reminded me, ‘I just wanted it to be good.’ I moved across the Atlantic into a twelve-man all-American College house; the closest thing to a fraternity.

I arrived to an amalgamation of Bad Neighbours and American Pie. Making close friends with other international students, I did not arrive with the expectations given from traditional American college films.

Having no expectations allowed everything to be surprising and taken in its stride whilst allowing, as the end of my semester proved, a greater appreciation for my experience

Thankfully, neither did everyone else. A group of Spanish and French students fully embraced the experience, allowing no.22 Crosby Road to become the staple Friday (and often Thursday) night party. House parties, beer pong, red cups, and Mr. Brightside soon became standard.

Telling friends this, they say it sounds stereotypical and cringy. Only retrospectively do I understand that it may have resembled a few 16th birthday parties, but these are some of my best memories from abroad - primarily because everyone hedonistically embraced the refreshing unfamiliarity.

We kept open minds and did not set expectations for roaring frat-parties or heaving night clubs - everyone was just there to enjoy themselves. Whenever we thought about parties, we would just describe them was 'silly'. It made for a more rewarding semester as no-one was there to maintain an image or uphold an idea.

Writing this, I feel the best friendships I made whilst away were with other international students. Everyone arrived in the States with anticipation of what they wanted to see but, no one envisioned the details of the experience.

these are some of my best memories from abroad - primarily because everyone hedonistically embraced the refreshing unfamiliarity

Packed with Australians, Italians, the Irish, Spanish, and French, gatherings at 22 Crosby Road became the Mecca for cross-cultural exchange, witnessing music switch from Despacito to Sweet Caroline within the shuffle of a Spotify playlist.

I fear preconceptions had the potential to prevent me making my long-term international friends, since it is less common to make friends with exchange students at Bristol. I worry that had I shunned other international students; I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the relationships I have made.

Relationships so strong, that 14 of us went on Spring Break together in Mexico after just six weeks in Boston. Although the events of Cancun are worthy of both an extended novel and film trilogy, it was embracing international students alongside American ones that made the experience for me so enjoyable. We already anticipate a trip to Ibiza in 2021.

The lack of expectation made accepting the end of my semester substantially easier. Following Spring Break, the Covid-19 pandemic became so serious that College closed. After a Wolf of Wall Street-inspired insistence that we were not leaving, we tentatively booked flights home amidst the gradual border shutdown.

Spring Break in Mexico | Epigram / Tom Sherwood

I believe not knowing what to expect made the adjustment easier. I knew the future held vague plans of skiing weekends, St Patrick's Day parades, the Boston Marathon, end of Semester celebrations, and two months travelling - but having no detailed plans granted me greater flexibility and more of an ability to meet everything head-on. Subsequently, it has given me a strange sense of reflective euphoria.

I am not devastated despite such an abrupt end to my semester abroad, but grateful for my ‘silly’ experiences and new friendships. The Coronavirus took five of my seven months abroad, but the lack of expectation to find some kind of 'enlightenment' has only made the two months more valuable. If anything, it has granted me this idea to manage expectations.

having no detailed plans granted me greater flexibility and more of an ability to meet everything head-on

I encourage anyone embarking on a semester abroad to try to keep an open mind about what may happen, especially regarding the unexpected. As a former boy scout, I must make clear that I do not encourage unpreparedness either.

I urge you not plan the minutiae of events - leave details for the moment. Vast expectations would have both restricted my enjoyment of America and made quarantine more emotionally taxing. I anticipated what America would bring but I did not have expectations to be upheld or be thwarted.

For me, Boston is now online seminars from the luxury of a double bed and weekly facetimes spanning four time zones. It is also 162 photographs on six disposable cameras. I know some are of 22 Crosby, some are of Cancun, and some are of Boston. I do not expect glorious quality, but I am excited to see their development.

| Studying abroad in Copenhagen: embracing the weather

| Does a year abroad really help your career?

| YEAR ABROAD FOCUS: France and Switzerland

Featured: Epigram / Tom Sherwood


Have you had a semester or year abroad cut short? What was the experience like for you?

AUTHOR