Going on a jet plane… – DU Abroad

I have moved 12 times in my life. 10 of these movements took place before I was fifteen. From Colorado to Montana to Idaho to Colorado and on and on, but none of that prepared me to move to Glasgow, Scotland. I came to Glasgow with my best friend. We didn’t plan it that way, we just have the same major, and Glasgow was our program of choice. It gave me a sense of stability as I prepared to leave Colorado. I have never lived away from my family before; I stayed in college for this reason. I knew it would be hard and I was scared. Maybe that’s why I procrastinated until two days before leaving. I was afraid of being homesick. I didn’t realize you had no choice whether to be homesick or not.

Everyone came to the airport to send me away. My mother, my mother’s boyfriend, my grandmother and my boyfriend. We fit as many people as possible into Nana’s Toyota Rav 4. I tried not to cry the whole way to the airport, but every few minutes a tear would fall. I rushed through the goodbyes as fast as I could trying and failing to keep it together. I was shaking as I watched their car drive away. I was still sad as a best friend, and went through security, but I couldn’t understand why. I remember watching the sunset as I sat in my doorway thinking “I had already said goodbye so why was I still upset?” The flight from Denver to London took 9 hours. We arrived at 11:30 am and the first thing I noticed when arriving were the cars on the freeway, they were all driving on the left side of the road. It was something small, but it looked so funny to me. Due to British Airways strikes our flights were reversed a month before we left and we were stuck with an 8 hour layover at London Heathrow Airport. We got food and took turns sleeping while waiting for the flight. I watched the sunset again at the door and wondered if I was going to feel that sadness every time I watched the sun go down. By the time we arrived in Glasgow we were exhausted. It was 11:30 p.m. when we entered our apartment. The whole building was quiet. We were so tired but due to the 7am time change we couldn’t sleep. We ordered the Domino’s pizza (of all things) using a coupon we received in our welcome kit and started settling in. I remember falling asleep that night, feeling weird. I was safe and I was comfortable, but I was sad. I wondered if I was going to be homesick the whole time I was in Glasgow.

Being the problem solver that I am, I immediately wondered how I could leave the program early. For the last few weeks there were no classes, so maybe I could get home earlier than planned, maybe I could change my flight, maybe I could change the flight of my boyfriend so he can visit me earlier, maybe I couldn’t do that. These thoughts and emotions lasted for over a week. I felt physically ill too. I was dizzy and nauseous all the time. I was tired every hour of the day even after the jet lag ended. I had headaches and it seemed that this disease was not getting better. After the third or fourth day of complaining to my best friend, she said it was all in my head. I was so offended. Why would she tell me I’m making this thing up? I really didn’t feel well. But after thinking about it and doing a quick Google search, I realized she was right. I was homesick.

I was trying to ignore my feelings because I thought it was so stupid for a 20 year old student to be homesick less than 7 days after leaving home, but it was the truth. Acknowledging my feelings was the cure. I remember the conversation I had with myself. I had to tell myself that I deserved this experience. I worked hard in school and worked hard to afford to go abroad. I reminded myself that I can do difficult things and that I am brave enough to take on this challenge. Once I accepted my homesickness, it became easier to deal with. After about two weeks I was so intrigued by exploring Glasgow and its surroundings that the melancholy had dissipated. School started and we started taking trips to places in Scotland and Europe, passing the time. My advice to those worried about being away from home is to accept those feelings before you go. I fooled myself into thinking that after saying goodbye to DIA, everything would be fine. It takes time and a good pep talk before you feel better. Homesickness doesn’t last forever, and the more you accept, the easier it will be. It may sound like a sad story, but it’s not. I am so grateful to have something in my life that is hard to say goodbye to and they will be there waiting for me when I return. Homesickness isn’t a bad thing, it’s a reminder to appreciate the blessings of family and friends. Everyone needs to be humiliated like that from time to time.

Blog post 1a
University of Glasgow Campus
Blog post 1b
Glasgow West End District near the University of Glasgow

Tips for preparing for arrival:

  • Get a phone plan in the UK: I can’t speak for people studying outside the UK, but Giff Gaff is a must. Phone plans in the UK range from £10 to £20 per month. My best friend and I suspended our Verizon phone plan in the US for three months (that’s the longest you can suspend) and ordered SIM cards from a cell phone company called Giff Gaff. My card was £15 which got me 30GB of data in the UK and 5GB of data when roaming in EU countries. This plan also had unlimited texting and calling. Verizon’s overseas plans cost around $300 per month with strict limits on data, text, and calls, which saved a lot of money. All we had to do was change SIM cards at London airport during our layover and we were good to go. Don’t lose your US carrier SIM card, you’ll need it when you return!
  • Light package: It’s impossible for you to know everything you’ll need abroad and checking baggage is expensive. You will also buy a lot of stuff once abroad like medicine, clothes, beauty products, hair products, souvenirs, kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies, etc. My best advice is to focus on the clothes and leave the shoes behind. How many times are you really going to wear these boots? When you arrive, don’t get carried away with toiletries, cooking utensils and cleaning supplies. You can’t bring back all those pots, pans, and bottle openers, so stick to the basics.
  • Buy a casserole: A fantastic investment my housemate and I made was a small £20 slow cooker. It made dinner parties so easy. There are tons of cheap and easy slow cooker recipes that make lots of leftovers. We used our slow cooker at least 3-4 times a week which saved us a lot of money eating out.
  • Do not ship anything: Due to severe procrastination, I only went to the doctor three days before leaving for Glasgow. When the doctor told me that I needed new glasses and new contacts, I was stressed because it was impossible for me to order them and deliver them to me before I left. I didn’t have my UK address yet, so my mum and I had arranged for her to ship my contacts to me when they were delivered to our apartment. They were just contacts, so they can’t be that expensive. We were wrong. For an envelope with a three-month supply of contacts plus shipping insurance, UPS charged nearly $200. It hurt our wallets already, but when it was delivered the courier charged me an extra $90. So you can say to yourself while packing “In the worst case, we can ship it to me”. This is a big mistake. I could have waited and ordered my contacts when arriving in Glasgow, but hindsight is still 20/20.

The summer before I left the United States, I was telling people that I was studying abroad for three and a half months, and it seemed like every time they asked me the same question: “Are you excited ?”. And every time, I was nodding my head and saying, “I’m so excited, this is going to be so much fun.” But I always felt a little wrong every time I gave that answer. I actually meant, “I’m excited, but I’m also nervous, scared, and anxious.” I always felt like that was the wrong answer. But now I don’t think there is a right answer. It sounds cliché and cheesy but it’s true. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be scared if it doesn’t confine you. Studying abroad is courageous. It may be easier for some people than for others, but at the end of the day, no matter who you are, it’s brave because you choose to challenge yourself in every way possible. So whether your battle is homesickness, not being able to eat fast food for lunch every day, making new friends, taking classes in a different language, or just not knowing the name of the street in which you live, know that all it takes is a little courage. There is always fear, but the answer is what matters.

This photo was taken on my birthday six days after we arrived in Scotland. This is Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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