Hannah spent one semester studying abroad at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England last year. Here is what she had to say about her experience.
Eric Murtaugh: Tell me about how you got involved with your study abroad program.
Hannah: A few of my friends had studied abroad so I applied and figured what the hell. When I got there, I joined the University of Leicester Woman’s Football (soccer) club and also the Study Abroad Society.
I was also part of the London Orientation, which was a 2-week orientation in London with about 30 of us. I was glad I decided to join all the things I did.
EM: What did you learn about Europe?
H: There are many things I learned about Europe, but the first thing I learned is that the UK is not as rainy and cloudy as everyone thinks. Everyone is very laid back, and a lot of Europeans do like Americans, despite what most people would think.
It is hard to have to always look the opposite way than what you are used to before you cross the street, and riding in someone’s car on the side you’re used to driving on is a crazy experience.
The bus systems are always late, and being late is not a big deal in Europe/UK.
EM: You seemed to make it a point to travel almost every weekend. How did you make it happen?
H: I knew that one major thing I wanted to do while I was across the pond was travel and I made it happen. I studied a lot during the week and got my papers done while almost everyone else I knew went out.
But I planned every trip for all of my friends and made sure I went to the places that I wanted to go.
EM: Which countries did you visit?
H: I visited England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.
EM: What’s the hardest part about traveling in Europe?
H: The hardest part was getting used to their public transportation, especially in Italy with the language barrier. We almost had to pay an extra 150 euro because we forgot to stamp our ticket before getting on the train.
However, it was nice being the stupid Americans for another train we took in Italy because we accidentally sat in first class and got a good 2 hours of luxury in before being asked for our ticket.
Most of the countries in Europe know how to speak English, but when you come across those who don’t it becomes a challenge. We all wished we had the iPhone app to help us out in those situations.
EM: From a traveler’s perspective, would you recommend studying abroad?
H: I recommend studying abroad for everyone that still has the chance to do it. Study abroad is an experience that no one can explain and it is a once in a lifetime experience. You also get to learn other cultures and get to travel. It’s one of the best choices I have made in my life.
EM: How was the food?
H: Everyone knows the food in England is not the best. And it definitely showed in the cafeteria food we ate, which consisted of a potato every single day and usually a plate of mush. It got to the point when we were in London for two weeks that we all craved Chipotle and we were lucky that London has one!
However, when I went to Italy, Scotland, Ireland and parts of Switzerland, the food was beyond explanation. Italy had the best food, best gelato, and best wine.
In Switzerland, I ate a fondue and bread dinner, but it was not at a well-known restaurant, so it wasn’t as great as I was expecting. But the food at other places was great.
Scotland and Ireland were very similar with delicious food. Even England has good food at nice places. But the fast food places stink. Except for McDonald’s. It is much better than American McDonald’s.
EM: You actually got stuck on your way home in England during a freak snowstorm. Tell me about it.
H: It was possibly one of the worst things I have ever experienced. People were everywhere. I mean everywhere! We got lucky and found a bed and breakfast we got to stay at one night and then a hotel the next.
I had 3 different flights canceled and accidentally bought a $2,000 one-way ticket home, which ended up saving me.
Heathrow was not flying anything out even though there was maybe 2 inches of snow on the ground, but Manchester, which is 3 hours away, was flying out. Delta ended up having 2 buses go to Manchester, put us up in a hotel for the night, and then finally flew out of Manchester to New York, then New York home. And we got to fly in first class.
Once I found out about the buses leaving, I had maybe 30 minutes to run from one terminal in Heathrow, take the tube to the next terminal, put a request in for my missing bag and then run back.
This was possibly the hardest and most stressful 30 minutes of my life. Once I got to the bus I was the last one on and thankful for leaving Heathrow.
EM: Any other good stories you’d like to share?
H: Every single trip I went on was a story in itself.
From visiting the underground city in Edinburgh, to seeing the futbol field in Barcelona, to taking an all day and all night hike around the entire edge of Ireland called Howth which we thought would never end and having to eat dinner at a hotel because we couldn’t find life for miles, to climbing the 500 some steps at The Duomo in Florence, which was difficult, but the view at the top was breathtaking, and canyon jumping in Switzerland.
Every second I was abroad was so far the best time of my life.
EM: Speaking of snow, you went skiing in Switzerland. How was that?
H: Skiing in Switzerland was one of the coolest things I have done. We mostly stayed on the bunny hills because I decided to ski instead of snowboard and was not as experienced with skis.
We went down the “easiest hill” which we later found out turned into a hard hill and I thought I was going to die with everyone flying past me as I fell and tried to get back up.
The scenery was the coolest thing ever.
EM: Any tips you can offer to someone considering studying abroad?
H: Save up a lot of money beforehand, because you don’t want to go abroad and not be able to travel because you don’t have enough money.
Also, bring food that you like which Europe doesn’t have, such as Easy Mac, ranch dressing, and peanut butter.
On The Road With: is an ongoing series where I chat with a fellow wanderer about life on the road. If you are interested in participating, please contact me here.