My university makes me write journal entries on my year out, and here’s the one I wrote before I go ;) You will get much more frequent updates, I think I only have to write four for them!
I’ve always been determined to go abroad as part of my university experience. Even before I knew precisely where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do, I knew that I wanted to take advantage of the unparalleled opportunities to explore the world. It’s true that when you have a job and you’re earning money, you can take the chance to explore then, but there’s nothing quite like living, studying or working somewhere to really get a feel for what it’s like.
Yes, I know this sounds a little bit like a sales pitch, I’m sorry, that’s just how I write!
When I started looking around universities in year 10 or so (yes, I know I was precocious. I wanted to look at courses that sounded interesting so I could be sure to pick the right a-levels to follow the path I wanted to in life. I like planning ahead, especially for things that matter.) I had a look at York, not least because I had fond memories of a physics summer school I attended when I was 14, living in Goodricke Cell Block C (James N block as it is now). Discovering it had one of the top chemistry departments in the country only made me more sure of my choice, and finding out about the study abroad opportunities I could incorporate into my degree, and the fantastic languages programs available only made me more determined to come. To be honest, I’m glad Oxford rejected me - they made my choice for me. Yes, I know it’s a little (or a lot) cliche to be an Oxbridge reject at York, but when I say I would have struggled to make the decision, I do sincerely mean it, and I haven’t looked back since.
I looked at all the destinations listed on the chemistry year abroad page, and I decided, even before I’d got to York, that I wanted to spend my fourth year in Helsinki. One of my favourite bands was Finnish, I’d never seen any of the Nordic countries, though I’d been to some of the more popular destinations like France, Spain and Germany. I already spoke French and Spanish, I didn’t learn German at school… and though I was a fairly proficient speaker, the idea of trying to do a chemistry degree in a foreign language didn’t appeal, and everything I could find about Finland said they taught in English and there was no language requirement.
I grew up in America, and in my mind it was expensive and a long way, as was Australia (though a sincere dislike of spiders, particularly deadly ones, had pretty much ruled that one out for me already). So, Finland it was to be.
When I finally got to the end of second year, and decisions started to be made, it was all very exciting and a little disconcerting to realise that this thing I had been planning for so long (with a little diversion into European industrial placements, which I won’t talk about) was finally coming to pass. Despite spending three months of last summer in China, it was very daunting to suddenly be making all these arrangements and plans and applications. Mainly because of the amount of paperwork. Don’t let anyone pull the wool over your eyes, there is a /lot/ of paperwork.
I was so determined to study abroad because… another cliche, I hope you’ll forgive me, I have always had a passion for learning. A hunger to learn and understand about anything and everything. There were quite a few things I could have studied at university, so I decided to pick the one you needed to be properly qualified to do (they don’t let you near the fun chemicals without a degree, unfortunately). I wanted to learn a(nother) new language and experience a different culture and the challenge of Finnish appealed to me, especially after Japanese and Mandarin (my last two… conquests is too strong a word. I might be able to get by.) Learning about the University of Helsinki and its place on the world stage just made me more certain that this was the place to go, and I’m just looking forward to another chance to be independent and experience so many new things.
I may regret saying this now but I’m not too worried about homesickness. That hasn’t been too much of a problem before, not even in my three months in China, which is both further away and even more of an alien culture than Finland. I’m more worried at the moment about the practical things, like whether or not my accomodation is going to be sorted out in time for me to move in, what will I and won’t I be able to buy in Finland, what the food is going to be like out there… but I’m far more excited than I am fearful, certainly at this stage.
And so now, after what is probably four or five years of this being a distant dream (maybe a few more if you count from the first yearnings of “I want to go abroad…”), it’s finally about to become a reality (conditional upon my exam results, because at this stage in life, everything is conditional on exam results). I’ve done all the paperwork (almost, and what I haven’t done I don’t have yet), I’ve made contact with the host institution, I know what area my project is going to be in (The Chemistry of Nucleotides and Nucleosides, by the way… it’s stuff to do with genetic material, so if anyone tries to tell me when I’ve finished that it’s not ‘biological’ enough for a Master’s in Biological and Medicinal Chemistry I might throw a crying fit). Now it’s just a countdown till the end of week 10 when I find out if I did well enough to go.