A visiting student at the University of Bristol, Chloe Teoh shares her sojourn of self-discovery abroad.
After a yearlong preparation, I finally embarked on a journey that I have been dreaming of since I was young. For an English major, a chance to go to Europe and bask in the beautiful architecture, rich Renaissance history, and different languages is a dream come true. Traveling is definitely on the very top of my to-do list, and I have serious intentions of soaking up the rich history and culture of Europe. For many people too, traveling in Europe is a must and ‘doing’ as many places as possible seems to be the purpose of studying abroad. At least, that was how I used to view a study abroad experience as well.
To be fair, I did my fair share of traveling and occasionally skipped one or two lectures to go abroad. I have been to typical tourist destinations such as London, Paris, and Dublin, but I have also been to the outskirts of Bristol (e.g. Portishead and Weston-Super Mare) and the occasional Cardiff and Bath. Cycling around Bristol is one of my favorite past times too, and I never got tired of seeing the natural scenery Bristol has to offer. However, as time passed, and I got more and more involved with my studies, I found myself drawn to the unique teaching and learning methods that I might never have the chance to experience again. Hard work and perseverance is needed to get good grades, and extensive reading and researching is vital to writing good essays. My work was carefully marked with progressive criticism and advice to improve. As I settled down into the life of a normal student rather than a study abroad student, my perspective changed.
From visiting numerous places and just traveling, learning took center place. Realizing that this is the one opportunity to improve and broaden up my mind took me a few months to see that, but once I readjust my priorities, things became easier to manage. Rather than spending time every week checking up SkyScanner for cheap flights and planning the next journey, I began to get more involved in my studies and spend more time in the library and classmates discussing projects. The projects we had to do were fascinating and illuminating. For example, I took Revenge Tragedy as a special unit in English Literature, and we had to design a play or story that includes elements of revenge tragedies and can be made into a movie or brought on stage. Incorporating things learned in class and plays seen in theatres and then designing a new story on our own was not easy, but everyone eventually pulled through, and I am proud to say my story was chosen as the most likely one to be turned into a movie. It was an encouraging moment for me after many attempts to improve my essays.
As teaching and learning methods were vastly different in Asia, it was challenging for me to speak up in class about my opinions. I was never a shy person and quite confident about my abilities, but somehow I seemed to have lost the courage to express my ideas in class freely. I would think that my ideas are immature and stupid, not worthy of presenting in front of others, and I would subconsciously avoid the teacher’s gaze during tutorials and seminars. It was frustrating and unsettling for me when I realized I have a problem regarding my confidence. It took me many unsuccessful attempts to force myself into speaking up and discussing questions in a room full of people before finally getting into the groove and opening up, but all this while I am grateful to my teachers who have been very patient and helpful in guiding me and promoting my self-confidence. They knew instinctively that I needed help and gave help without my asking for it. Their kindness fueled my desire for success and I am happy to say that although I am far from being confident and expressive in class, nevertheless I have come a long way from where I first started.
Of course, studying abroad would not be studying abroad without a bit of traveling thrown in, and when the whole of Europe is just a few hours away either by bus, train, or airplane, a student would have to be an ol’-stick-in-the-mud to come all the way here for a year and just live in one city. Through planning travels either with friends or alone, the experience made me more confident and sure of myself. Time management became important because missing the scheduled ride means spending extra money on unnecessary tickets. Being well informed on destinations such as opening/closing times, things-to-do there, nearby sights, and traveling times means saving money and being assured of directions. Although getting lost might be fun in a strange city, getting lost without a backup plan can end with frightening results, and I am sure no one would like their vacations stained with memories of ending up in the police station asking for help in a foreign language.
Traveling alone also gives me a sense of freedom to do whatever I want without consulting and compromising with others. It is lonesome at times, but it is also an exhilarating experience, particularly when I meet interesting people in hostels or on free-guided tours. I learned to be wary of strangers, but also to mingle among friendly locals who just want to have a chat in the bar. Ultimately, I came to trust my judgment and common sense whenever I engaged in a conversation with strangers and discover that people can be vastly different in one aspect but uncannily similar in another. I would never trade my study abroad experience for any other, and I urge many who have a dream to study abroad to go for it wholeheartedly, because you will come back a new person, changed in perspective and mind.