10 things I learned while studying abroad

10 things I learned while studying abroad

By: Maddy Williams

I studied abroad in Manchester, England during the Spring 2023 semester, and here are 10 things I learned during the process. 

If you’re thinking of studying abroad or you’re just curious about my experiences, keep reading!

Pack light, but smart

It’s hard to pack your life away in suitcases for a full semester. 

Make sure to pack clothes that easily pair with a lot of different pieces. I packed primarily neutrals, since I knew they’d match everything. 

Make sure to either buy an extra bag coming home or leave room in your suitcase for souvenirs and clothes you buy on your trip. If you’re like me, I shop a bit too much being in a new place. 

There’s a ton of amazing thrift stores in Manchester, so if you love fashion, come prepared!

Apply for scholarships

Scholarships have been extremely helpful for me during this process. Since I am paying MTSU tuition while studying abroad, I still receive all of my normal yearly scholarships from MTSU and HOPE. 

The study abroad office also offers multiple study abroad scholarships you can apply for. They are very generous with their study abroad students. I was very grateful for the scholarships I was awarded from them.

MTSU also has yearly scholarships you can apply for. You may receive these awards either before your trip or after, since they align with the end of a school year. It’s still an amazing way to earn some extra money for tuition and your study abroad program. 

MTSU’s scholarship page will give you a general application to fill out and from there, they will match you with applications that fit your qualifications. There are also general forms for your college and school, such as the College of Media and Entertainment and the School of Journalism. 

Some majors also offer study abroad scholarships. The College of Liberal Arts and the College of Media and Entertainment are two examples of colleges that offer awards you can apply for when you are planning to study abroad.

I’m very thankful to MTSU for all the incredible opportunities I have had to earn scholarships to make this process affordable. 

(Photo: Maddy Williams)

Find housing early

By the time I knew I was accepted into my exchange program, most apartment complexes were full. 

The University of Salford doesn’t have dorms, but they do have a partnership with one apartment company. However, the housing on campus is only for first years, and the off-campus housing they partner with was full at the time.

I was left searching, looking at various student apartments and houses. This was quite stressful, as I thought I may not get to study abroad. 

Most students were in leases from September to June, so trying to find a short-term lease for only five months was difficult. Manchester currently has a housing crisis going on as well, making the problem that much more difficult.

My advice would be to find housing early, even before you’re accepted if you feel certain you’d go. Talk to different apartment complexes to see if you could reserve a room either without putting down a deposit until being accepted or to have that deposit refunded to you if you couldn’t go. 

This will save you the headache later!

Research the area your housing is in

I made the mistake of not researching the area very well before joining my lease. While I have had a positive experience and made friends with my roommates, the area around my apartment isn’t the safest area. 

There also aren’t any bus stops near me that take me to my classes in Media City, which is about a 20 minute bus ride from my area of town.

Be mindful of where you book your accommodation, and always look for apartments near the bus stops you’ll need to get to your classes.

If you do study at the University of Salford, I recommend trying to get housing with the company the university partners with, renting an Airbnb, or staying in the city center of Manchester. 

While Salford is a part of Manchester, it is right outside the city, but the commute wouldn’t be far if you were to stay in Manchester itself.

If you’re studying anything in media, you’ll likely have classes in Media City, rather than the main University of Salford campus. I’d recommend getting housing in Media City if you can, but again, book early because those were full for me as well.

(Photo: Maddy Williams)

Don’t overbuy room decorations or apartment essentials

I did my best to only buy the bare minimum when it came to shopping for my apartment. 

I chose this route because anything I bought would then get donated or thrown away before I leave. I can’t exactly take bedding or cookware home, so I had to be mindful of what I bought.

Since my apartment is considered student accommodation, my apartment is furnished. This helped me immensely because I didn’t have to worry about furniture. My only expense was to buy things for my room and the kitchen.

Plan your classes to fit in travel days

If one of your goals during your exchange program is to travel around Europe while studying, make sure to plan your classes accordingly. I picked classes that meet only on Mondays and Wednesdays for this reason.

At the University of Salford, classes only meet once a week for three hours, so making my schedule this way was pretty easy. This has allowed me to travel some weekends from Thursday to Sunday. 

I don’t travel every weekend, since I need to make my deadlines and assignments my number one priority, but when I have the time, I like to take trips around the UK and other parts of Europe.

Research the places you’re traveling to beforehand

If you do decide to travel while studying abroad for a semester, make sure to research the country you’re going to beforehand. This may sound like common sense, but it’s important.

Many countries will experience times of heavy protesting or other events that make tourism a bit risky. For example, I wanted to go to Paris, France, but I pushed my trip back a month because of their current protests.

It’s also important to know a little of the language before traveling there. Being able to communicate with locals is a huge skill. I still heavily rely on Google Translate, but I do try my best to learn.

(Photo: Maddy Williams)

Make a budget

Budgeting is so important when studying abroad. Since U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to study in the UK for six months or less, I cannot work here even if I wanted to.

If you do wish to work while studying abroad, make sure to apply for the appropriate visa. You can find information about this on the UK’s embassy website.

While I didn’t plan on working while studying abroad, it’s important to recognize that since you won’t be making any money, you need to ensure you saved enough money and budget well. 

I saved for this trip by working part time as a waitress. I’ve worked part time since I was 16, and I’ve always been a saver. Once I knew I was studying abroad, I started saving even more. I would set aside $100 each week for my travels.

I always encourage splurging when it comes to an experience, and studying abroad is by far one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Even though I am doing my best to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me, I still try to save as much money as possible.

University looks very different in other countries

While I really enjoy university life in England, it’s very different from home. England takes academic writing very seriously, they have a completely different grading scale, and professors go by their first names.

As random as that list sounds, there are so many quirks that sets universities in the U.S. apart from the UK.

It hasn’t been difficult to adapt to these changes since it isn’t too far removed from the U.S. system, but it’s still something to consider.

English food

I have missed American food so much while studying abroad, and I never thought I’d say that. While I have loved eating food in most of Europe that I’ve been to so far, the UK’s cuisine is less than impressive.

Their fish and chips are worth the notorious record they receive, but other than that I don’t really enjoy English food. 

Most of their food is greasy and filled with a lot of fats from different meats. Sausage is very common and used in a lot of meals. Gravy is also drizzled on many dishes. One of their most popular sides is mushy peas.

For some people, this may sound amazing. It just isn’t my type of food. I do really enjoy the Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and even American food that you can find in the UK though.

That concludes the 10 things I’ve learned while studying abroad in Manchester, England. I hope this advice was helpful for those of you hoping to become an exchange student. I’ve learned a lot during this process, and I am so fortunate to have gotten the chance to do it.