Over the past few months, my Spotify playlists have gone through a transition of many different themes that showcase a phenomenally negative downward spiral into one playlist I currently have named “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Here, I have accumulated a list of songs that represent anecdotes of my study abroad experience including assumptions of what my remaining time will hold. Let the mediocrity show that studying abroad is not just what the pictures show of standing atop mountains or eating authentic Italian cuisine – it’s a whirlwind of some pretty emotional songs by the likes of Celine Dion and Beyonce.
DOESN’T EXIST. Across the pond, there is no such thing as a simple brewed cup of coffee. I cannot begin to describe my frustration at the consistent lack of understanding from all baristas far and wide across the United Kingdom. I don’t want a latte. I don’t want an espresso. I’m not asking for much. Honestly, they just make their lives more difficult with the insistence of adding milk and sugar to every kind of drink. The American Dream is not a house with a white picket fence. It’s a cup of coffee.
Like other third-year students with fall birthdays venturing abroad, I achieved a milestone in the UK: the big twenty-first birthday. Except, turning 21 means nothing here. Not only are you already completely irrelevant in the university social sphere at this age, but the legal drinking age is 18. Moral of the story: no one cares about you and your American legality. The dream of spending my twenty-first completely inebriated at HVAC or Old Crow has completely combusted and crumbled into a pile of unused birthday decorations.
Location, location, location. It’s not just a real estate mantra. I chose to study abroad in the middle of nowhere with no NU friends (no pun intended) for the independent adventure of a lifetime. An abundance of cows and sheep, but no wildcats to be seen. I think the inevitable loneliness is pretty self-explanatory.
I hope I am not alone in the sad realization that there is just no intellectual stimulation with abroad academic institutions. Is it condescending to believe Northwestern is the only place for me? Maybe. I find myself taking the same “What Gilmore Girls character are you according to your food preferences?” quizzes on Buzzfeed just to pass the time. Pass/fail study abroad credit is becoming the bane of my existence. My desires for problem sets and research papers are frightening.
There comes a sad moment while abroad when you realize that you are, in fact, not using Monopoly money to plan extravagant trips and weekend getaways. Don’t let the fun colors, shapes and sizes fool you. It disappears in an instant and you begin to question your decision to take a 90-euro gondola ride in Venice. I am not a super rich kid.
A tangential choice following “Super Rich Kids.” While the looming costs of international travel are consistently on my mind, there is an added bonus of the inevitable housing situation back home on campus. Evanston realtors began offering up my current home to future tenants not a month after I arrived in the UK. Time to find a new place to live for the following year, and this time the process gets to be completed abroad and broke! This entails paying security deposits and bothering friends for constant virtual walkthroughs: a new definition of adventurous and exhilarating.
The presence of social media has developed into a blessing and a curse over this quarter. While watching the sorrow Snapchats of friends participating in consulting recruitment makes my schedule laced with inactivity and boredom appear desirable, the FOMO is slowly killing me. That should be me throwing pumpkins off an elevated surface at a tailgate. That should be me mobbing the streets of Wrigley after the Cubs won the World Series. I shouldn’t be sitting in my bed watching all three Madagascar movies on a Saturday night.
The exact thought that goes through my head every time I am standing at a platform for public transportation. The inaccuracies of the bus system seem to have a positive correlation with the dropping temperatures: the colder it gets, the longer I’m standing outside. My efforts just to get into town to buy groceries shouldn’t give concern for frostbite and hypothermia.
An interesting aspect of the UK school system, I’ve discovered, is that everyone is considered a “fresher” if it’s your first year at that university. In other words, even though I have taken 24 courses at Northwestern, I am not qualified to take anything above an intro level in the UK. This leaves me at the hands of every sickness known to man during the period seized by the “Freshers Flu” as I am constantly surrounded by first-year students coughing and sneezing throughout each lecture, seminar and shoulder-check in jammed hallways. This is what living in fear feels like.
Normally I don’t like to feed into the clear superiority complex that exists deep within all American souls. However, we have better food. That’s just not debatable. I consider myself someone who appreciates food experimentation and becoming cultured by local cuisine, yet I wholeheartedly believe that America does it better. Simple as that. Items the UK claim to have, but really are just horrible representations: peanut butter, microwave popcorn, lemonade, cheeseburgers, English muffins (not a joke), hot dogs and milkshakes. Not to mention their complete lack of viable chain restaurants. My dreams revolve solely around a Portillo’s chopped salad.
I might not be studying in Australia or Asia, which I would consider “the other side of the world,” but I’d say living in a time zone six hours ahead of Evanston makes it feel that way. Communication is nearly impossible with everyone’s convoluted schedules of classes and extracurriculars. While I’ve remained six hours ahead this entire time, the only one who can seem to remember that is my mother. I’ll take it.
I believe Beyonce takes the cake with the most accurate depiction of my current thoughts on study abroad. It’s been quite the wild ride, but all that’s on my mind now are numbers. Thirty-nine days until I can leave this “new home” I call abroad. Thirty-nine days until I’m back in Evanston, a not-so-NU home.
This piece is part of the ongoing series "Not a Study Abroad Blog." If you're interested in being interviewed about your own experience abroad or in writing a post, please email one of the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org or or email@example.com. Also, follow our Instagram and submit photos of your daily mediocrities to @notastudyabroadinsta