Kelsey Ryan studied in Brighton, England at the University of Sussex in Spring 2019 through the Brighton: University of Sussex program.
If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?
The friends you make when you go abroad are invaluable. When you’re all out there and have never been that far away from home for that long, you connect to each other quickly. From there, amazing friendships can bloom, and the ones I made while I was abroad are incredible. I still talk to the people I met on my program all the time–my old flatmates and I have regular FaceTime sessions where we catch up and check on each other, see what everyone’s been up to since June 2019. Seriously, I can’t express enough how wonderful the people are.
If you could go abroad again, what would you do differently?
I would’ve taken some embedded courses! I never considered them when I was planning my academics at Penn State, but I really wish I had. They seem like amazing opportunities to learn in the Penn State environment while also getting the abroad component. It would’ve been so great to try one (or two!)
What specific factors influenced your decision to go abroad?
I grew up in a place where everything is pretty much the same–there’s not a lot in my community that feels expansive or like it’s trying to encourage me to be a global citizen. Going abroad was the opportunity I’d been seeking to truly get out into the world and experience it.
What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?
I was terrified of being far away from my family and not having a way to get back to them should something go awry. Honestly, the best way to get over the fear was to get on the plane. I certainly had some culture shock and homesickness to deal with, but by getting on the plane, I forced myself to face my fear. From then on, I was abroad! The anxiety slipped away as I adjusted, and being away was no longer something scary.
What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?
Going to Sussex, I was able to fully integrate into the school’s culture, because it was a direct enrollment program. This meant that I was a Sussex student, which really helped me to feel like I was a part of the university itself. This translated into feeling like I was a part of the UK–Brighton was home.
How have you used the skills you learned abroad now that you are back; either in job searching, or in other activities?
I’ve learned to listen a lot more. When I talk to people, I sit back and listen to the stories they tell, I empathize with them more as my perspective on the world has globalized It’s really incredible how much your view of people changes when you go (and live) abroad longterm.
Did you participate in any service projects while on your program? How did that enhance your study abroad experience?
I was a volunteer in Sussex’s Language Café, which meant that I helped students practice their language skills. I was at the English table, so every week I would go in and work on English-speaking skills with my fellow students through the use of word games, discussions, and small projects. It was a great time because I made so many friends through my fellow volunteers and through the students I worked with! It also helped to prepare me for an ESL tutoring internship I worked when I got home in the Fall 2019 semester.
What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at Penn State?
Our Spring Break lasted 2 weeks as opposed to Penn State’s one, and so my family and I planned a 2-week trip throughout different countries in Europe. For two weeks we were in constant travel, visiting numerous countries and sites throughout the continent, and it was absolutely incredible. I saw and learned so much in just two short weeks, and I really got to bond with my family all the while.
What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most out of their study abroad experiences?
“Do what scares you!” Doing things I wouldn’t normally do is what made my abroad experience the most fun. For example, I and a friend (who was on a program in Russia) planned a trip to Berlin all on our own, including finding accommodations, flights, and things to do while we were there. It was totally scary trying to navigate all that travel planning on my own, but it worked out in the end, and I ended up having the time of my life!
Share an experience where you interacted with someone in your host culture in a way that taught you something.
I ended up meeting someone in one of my classes who was planning to study abroad at Penn State in Fall 2019! It was really cool to talk to him about Penn State, to explain what it was like from a practical perspective, but also what he could expect from the student community. It was such an interesting time, just getting to see how we had this little connection with each other that I’d never seen before despite being in class together for a full term.