(After six weeks of exams and traveling, we’re picking up where we left off…)
Gwyneth/Sioned: Did you change your hair or something? You look…different.
Me: *wearing dark glasses and a beret, waving a cigarette around without actually smoking it* I’ve been to Europe, yes. *dramatic pause* It changed me.
G/S: Wow. Hmm. Well, technically you’ve been in Europe since January**, but I guess we’ll let that slide. By the way, how did your exams go?
Me: I think they were alright! The short-answer and essay formats weren’t much different from what I see in Madison, but the idea that one test makes up 80 percent of my grade still doesn’t sit too well. I don’t get any results until July, but I spent hours revising and I’m proud of the work I put in.
G/S: That’s good, then. Anyway, I believe we were talking about your social experience here?
Me: Yes! Like I mentioned, I didn’t see my classmates much outside of class. But from day one, the uni held events specially for study-abroad students. It was a lot like freshman year – a campus walking tour, a “let us help you enroll and then give you free cookies,” a trivia night in the student union. What’s perfect about these functions is the way they level the playing field. It’s okay to look a bit nervous, it’s totally cool to introduce yourself to strangers because everyone’s in the same boat.
I still remember sitting in the Main Building after a tour of downtown Cardiff, drinking strong black tea with two girls from Sweden, a girl from Austria and a boy from Australia. I didn’t know (obviously) that Emma, Ida, Elisa and Josh would remain my close friends all semester long. I just knew they seemed friendly, and interesting, and I was grateful to have people to sit with.
Waiting at a crosswalk that afternoon I noticed nametags on the people standing nearby – the same nametags we’d been given before our tour. Confident and caffeinated, I walked up to say hi, and boom: more new friends. We all met for drinks that night, and over a few pints (plus an extremely mediocre pitcher of mojitos), a bond was formed.
(By this point I think my interviewer would have gotten tired and gone home, but I’m going to keep talking.)
From there, things snowballed in the best way. In those first few weeks, we won Trivia Night… We toured Cardiff Castle… and we sat down for High Tea. We couldn’t be stopped.
Today, our chat on WhatsApp (creatively named “Cardiff”) has about 30 members, and every day I can pretty much guarantee that someone will be up for something – coffee downtown, a Coast Path hike, a pub crawl.
Because we’re all studying abroad, we’re motivated to get out and explore. I’ve seen more of Wales in six months than some Cardiff University students will see in a year year, all thanks to my friends.
We’re a pick-n-mix of writers, doctors, social workers, engineers, scientists and mathematicians, ranging from 19 and single to 26 and engaged (congratulations, Thorbin!). We’re tall, tiny, sassy, sweet, dancing queens, serious students, veggies, and carnivores, and we make an absolutely killer team.
If you’re reading these blogs to help you decide if studying abroad will be a good experience, it will. If you’re worried that you won’t make any friends, you will. If I can do it, then you can do it! Even better, you’ll probably meet at least one or two of the people that Anne of Green Gables would call your bosom friends, “really kindred spirits,” and you’ll keep in touch with them long after you return home.
That return flight home is creeping up on me now, somehow even faster than what I mentally prepared for. Luckily, I have more words of wisdom, from another fierce fictional redhead: Pippi Longstocking (or Pippi Långstrump to my German and Swedish friends). At the end of chapter one, her story goes like this:
“Suppose you go home now,” said Pippi, “so that you can come back tomorrow. Because if you don’t go home you can’t come back, and that would be a shame.” Tommy and Annika agreed that it would indeed, so they went home.
If I don’t go home, I can’t come back. And that would be a shame.
**Things might change on June 23rd. I obviously can’t vote on the Brexit referendum, but I’m following it closely.