I studied abroad in the US in 2016 and spent four months living in Pennsylvania.
I made many mistakes, like wasting time on tourist activities instead of lesser-known attractions.
But I also did things to make the move more worthwhile, such as opting to live in a small town.
In 2016, I temporarily relocated from my home in Scotland, UK, to Pennsylvania, USA, for a study abroad program.
I was born and raised outside Glasgow, the biggest city in Scotland, UK. I attended university in the city, and in 2016 I took a four-month break to participate in an exchange semester at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
The exchange semester required me to temporarily move from my home in Scotland to Millersville, a small borough of just 2 square miles in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, according to the university website.
My only prior experiences in the US were two family vacations to Disney World in Florida when I was 8 and 10 years old. But I had no idea what it would be like to live there. Looking back, I realize I made many mistakes.
I could have saved myself some time and heartache if I had done more research on American household items.
During my first week in the US, the other international students and I were taken to Walmart to purchase items for our dorm rooms. I remember being overwhelmed when an American student showed me the bedding aisle and told me to pick out a comforter, as I had no idea what that was.
In the UK, comforters aren’t generally used; instead, we have quilts or duvet inserts and the sheets that cover them, similar to a pillowcase.
The comforter I picked out was rougher in texture than a typical British duvet insert and cover, and I couldn’t find anything to cover it to make it softer on my skin.
If I had done my research, I could have avoided so much confusion and wasted less time over such an essential household item. And I could have brought my duvet cover from home.
I stuck to touristy activities, but I wish I had gotten to know local neighborhoods.
I spent my weekends traveling to different cities across the east coast, including Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC. My favorite place was New York, and I visited the city four times as I was lucky enough to have some family and friends visit me there.
I loved seeing the sights, and the Brooklyn Bridge was a highlight for me.
But I also think traveling is about experiencing places that are recommended by locals rather than other tourists. If I could do it again, I would spend less time visiting the same tourist attractions over and over again and more time exploring lesser-known attractions or neighborhoods.
I didn’t do any solo travel while in the US.
When I lived in the US, I was just 20 years old and had never lived away from home — so you can imagine how overwhelming it was for me.
I only ever traveled with a group, as it felt safe and more comfortable to be around other international students, many of whom were more well-traveled than I was.
This had its downsides, as I often missed out on visiting places I wanted to see because I had nobody to go with.
If I had been braver and incorporated some solo trips into my itinerary, I think I could have had a much better experience and become more independent.
But there were things I did to make my time abroad easier, like choosing a small town over a big city.
Millersville has a population of around 7,851, according to World Population Review. The university campus was pretty isolated, and there wasn’t much close to my dorm building other than the dining hall, the library, and a lake with some picnic benches.
Whenever I tell people I studied at Millersville, I get a lot of raised eyebrows. Many people question why I didn’t move to a big city or somewhere with more things to do. But choosing a small town meant it was easier to get adjusted to my surroundings, and it was less overwhelming than a city.
I also crossed paths with the same people daily, which meant I quickly got to make friends.
I combated homesickness by regularly FaceTiming with my family and writing letters to them.
I urge anyone moving or traveling abroad to make sure your cellphone plan has international data roaming included. Because of this, I didn’t have to rely on Millersville’s patchy WiFi to FaceTime my family.
I would also recommend writing letters or postcards. I know it’s old-fashioned, but I enjoyed putting pen to paper and writing about my experiences in detail.
My grandmother kept all the letters, and reading them years later reminds me of my fantastic time in the US.
I decorated my dorm room with mementos from both the UK and the US.
In addition to regular correspondence, I battled homesickness by decorating my dorm room with mementos from home. I displayed photos of my friends and family on the walls and brought a few decorative items to display.
I also collected souvenirs in the US, including a tiny flag (pictured above), a snow globe from New York, and some Millersville merchandise. It was vital for me to have a physical representation of the old life I left behind in the UK and the new memories I made in the US.
I immersed myself in US college culture.
I’ve never been a sports fan, but I knew it was a big part of US college culture from the movies and TV shows I’d watched. So during my first week, I attended a college football game and relied on my new American friends to explain the rules.
Throughout the semester, I also attended a basketball and a baseball game, and I occasionally played soccer with my friends.
Even though these aren’t activities I find myself doing in Scotland, I’m glad I did it in the US, as it helped me step out of my comfort zone and connect with the American students.
My experience in the US was wonderful, and that was in part due to the mistakes I made along the way.
While nobody wants to make mistakes when they move abroad, I don’t regret mine for a second. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for my short stay in the US; I’m now more independent, more willing to take risks, and I’m not afraid of solo travel.
Living in the US is a memory I will always treasure, and I’m hopeful that I’ll return for a visit someday soon.
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