Blog No. 7: ‘The dark truth of studying abroad’

May 15, 2023
Emily Pachta in Barcelona, Spain, the week before exams. (Courtesy photo)
Emily Pachta in Barcelona, Spain, the week before exams. (Courtesy photo)

For the spring semester, sophomore Emily Pachta of Wichita studied abroad at Newman University’s sister school in Birmingham, England, and nears the end of her adventure in blog No. 7.

Read blog No. 1 — Getting acquainted

Read blog No. 2 — A day in the life

Read blog No. 3 — A trip to Scotland

Read blog No. 4 — Travel tips

Read blog No. 5 — A U.S.-themed night abroad

Read blog No. 6 — A trip to Amsterdam and Germany

The Dark Truth of Studying Abroad … (Dun dun dun)

Hey guys! I hope everyone is finishing this semester strong. I am finished with classes and currently writing this from Paris as I embark on a month of traveling Europe solo.

I once again cannot believe how fast this experience has gone. It got me thinking about everything and I noticed some things I wanted to discuss that weren’t perfect. I hope you liked the title, that is what we call in the blogging realm as “clickbait.”

While hard things and cultural differences are involved in being abroad, I would not change this experience for the world. I am so happy that I had this opportunity and made it happen. Some of these are observations I have of the UK, Europe, or Newman University here so they are a bit specific. But let’s get into the good stuff, the horrors (not really, honestly just minor inconveniences) of studying abroad.

Cigarettes everywhere

I swear I have never seen so many cigarettes or vapes in my entire life. I am not used to the smell. Also, I am not up to date on my vape knowledge but they have flavored vapes here and I am pretty sure that is illegal in the U.S. (Editor’s note: There are U.S. bans on flavored vapes and online sales in certain states). So sometimes you get a nice whiff of chemical cotton candy (not that real cotton candy isn’t already chemicals, but you know what I mean). I do miss the fresh Kansas air because cigarette smoke and vape clouds are not my favorite things to walk into. I mean this may be a pro for some of you but definitely not me.

No Midwestern charm

I love smiling at people on the streets. Sue me. I get death stares back. This is definitely just a big city thing because I have been to places like New York City and D.C. where it is the same situation but I do not appreciate it. I am just trying to be friendly, OK. Rude.

But also it gives me away as not a native so I have been working on my resting mean face. Just a straight glare gives you the European flare. Not saying it is the same in all of Europe but in most big touristy cities, the more you smile, the more of a target you are for scams or worse. I love the Kansas and Midwest charm so when I get back I might just walk down Oldtown in Wichita and smile at everyone I see. 

No Mexican restaurants

England is not close to Mexico. (Crazy, right?!) But that means that the Mexican food places mostly consist of “Real California Burritos” or “Tex-Mex” all of which are not Mexican food. I will be going to my local Mexican restaurant in Wamego (shoutout La Hacienda) to devour FREE chips and salsa. Free food like chips and salsa, breadsticks, rolls, etc. are pretty much nonexistent from my Europe experience. Tapas may be the exception but you still have to buy a drink to get food. Mexican food is top tier and you don’t realize how good it is until it’s gone. (Sad face.)

"Reading on the bus is nice as long as you don’t get violently car sick haha," Pachta said.
“Reading on the bus is nice as long as you don’t get violently car sick haha,” Pachta said.

No car

Obviously, there are cars in England. But not having my own mode of transportation is brutal. Public transportation in Birmingham isn’t bad, you can use Google Maps and it is pretty reliable, which is nice. But one week there were bus strikes. So no buses for a week. We couldn’t get groceries or go out, which isn’t the end of the world but it isn’t necessarily fun. I can’t wait to get in my car, pump the A.C. and blare some “Hamilton” (out of spite because of the American Revolution). It would be great if Wichita got more public transportation though because it is nice to get on a bus and turn off your brain. I know this is not a new idea, I am just saying. 

Differences in food

Restaurants aren’t the only difference in food but also grocery stores. The whole food packaging of food is different, which makes sense because I am in a whole other continent but here are some things that I don’t love.

The caffeine in drinks, even energy drinks, is kind of hidden. I feel like in the U.S. you can see exactly how many mg of caffeine are in one can of Redbull or Coca-Cola pretty easily but here they often do it by 100 ml. So it may say 36 mg caffeine/100 ml and then there are 300 ml in the can so you have to do some math. But sometimes I just cannot find the caffeine information at all. This might not concern some of you but I do try and limit my caffeine intake so this was a bit frustrating.

Also, the chips (“crisps”) selection is LACKING. They have an unusual amount of meat-flavored chips like prawn (shrimp) or roasted chicken-flavored chips, which for some reason, kind of freaks me out. There are so many more little grocery store things but I will leave you with that. 

"Shout out to Jasmin for this picture of king prawn-flavored Coronation Crisps," Pachta said.
“Shout out to Jasmin for this picture of king prawn-flavored Coronation Crisps,” Pachta said.

Two assignments

In most European universities, they have two assignments or exams at the end of the semester and that is your grade for that class. As someone who is used to five tests, quizzes and homework assignments, this was a huge adjustment. It sounds easy at the start but procrastination is no joke.

I definitely prefer the U.S. university version because I feel like I remember and retain the information better when I am doing tests throughout the semester. Especially if you only have assignments, you really only have to know the information for those assignments and go to the lectures relating to that topic so it’s much easier to skip lectures (not that I would advise that). While that may sound nice, it won’t be nice when you come back to the states and have to apply that knowledge. So go to class and don’t procrastinate. 

Bad Starbucks

If you have talked to me at all, you would know I hate European Starbucks. If you like to get fun, intricate Starbucks orders, Europe is not the place to do that. They have one flavor of cold foam and it has been bad in all my experiences and all the lattes I have gotten just taste off. I can’t even describe it.

When I get back to the U.S. I am fully prepared to chug multiple different Starbucks drinks to make sure I wasn’t complaining about nothing because I am 80% sure that U.S. Starbucks just tastes so much better. 

"Bad Starbucks in Edinburgh with a dome lid (dome lids are so sad)," Pachta said.
“Bad Starbucks in Edinburgh with a dome lid (dome lids are so sad),” Pachta said.

Public restrooms are difficult to find

This is so random but I feel like in the U.S. you can find a bathroom (they call them toilets here and I don’t know I just don’t love that) almost anywhere. Even restrooms in Europe that are in train stations and such may charge you €0.70 to go. In England, I haven’t been charged as much but it is just more difficult to find a bathroom.

Again this may be a big city thing, but when you go into a Tesco Express (grocery store in the city) they don’t have public restrooms even if you’re willing to pay. I often find a Starbucks or McDonalds because normally they won’t care if you don’t purchase anything if you just walk in with confidence. But if you have a small bladder — be warned. 

In conclusion

Once again, even after knowing these small issues, I would still do this whole experience over a million times. As pretentious as it may sound, I feel like a whole new person in terms of the information and experiences I have gained this semester. My advice to you: if you are unsure about whether or not you want to study abroad — do it. I, again, want to thank Dr. Cheryl Golden for helping me through this whole experience.

As always, if you have any questions, let me know at [email protected]

Study abroad opportunities at Newman University

Students are encouraged to participate in Newman University’s overseas study and exchange programs, which contribute to individual and intercultural development.