Postcard from Abroad: Sarah Selzer

BGSU VCT student discovers life in the United Kingdom

Living in the United Kingdom has been my dream since I first read Harry Potter when I was 5 years old. After months of paperwork and waiting, I finally realized that dream by studying abroad to Aberystwyth University.   

My study abroad adventure began in January in Aberystwyth, Wales. Throughout the next five months, I took four classes, visited five countries, made countless memories and forged some of the sweetest friendships.  

In Aberystwyth, I lived in a flat along with two other Americans as well as girls from Azerbaijan, Italy, France and the Czech Republic. One of my favorite memories of the first week is the eight of us sitting around the dinner table in our pajamas sharing pizza and chatting like old friends. From the conversation, one would never know we were from five countries and three different continents. In regards to my abroad experience as a whole, I would say I was more surprised by how similar things were, than shocked by any differences. Even the town, Aberystwyth, is a close-knit, rural community very similar to Bowling Green.

I took the advice of the study abroad office and chose to get involved my first week on campus. I found a warm welcome from the Christian Union — a student organization much like BGSU Cru — and at Globe Café, a small group specifically for international students. Through Globe, I was invited to attend a local church with some of the other students, and found the friendly atmosphere and warm hospitality reminiscent of what I left back in the States.   

One of the reasons I chose to take a semester abroad rather than just taking a quick vacation or two-week trip to Europe is because I value deep connections. Whether it be with people or places, I like to get to know the day-to-day, the quirks, and truly appreciate the simple and little things. Attending the local church was one of the best ways to achieve this for me. I was able to meet and befriend both university students and townies with ages from newborn to 90, offering a glimpse into the diversity of Aberystwyth. After the morning service, I was often invited into someone's home to share a traditional meal and conversation. It was during these times that I learned the most about the history and culture of Wales and Britain, deepened relationships with people from all over the world, and further invested in my spirituality (and had great food).  

I chose Aberystwyth specifically to study abroad to because of its natural environment. My flat was about a mile from the seafront, and the town is surrounded on the other three sides by cliffs and hills. I think some people might tire of such a small town, but I loved going down to the sea to explore the tide pools, climbing up the cliffs to do homework on a ledge, exploring Penglais Woods next to campus and hiking to Borth on the Coastal Path — a trail that goes over hills and through sheep pastures, and navigates the entire coastline of Wales.   

My favorite part of my experience was finding friends that loved adventures as much as I do. The Brits I met through the Christian Union treated me as if I had been a part of their friend group for ages, and invited me on all kinds of mini adventures like exploring a 900-year-old castle, venturing out to the lighthouse at midnight, stargazing in a tucked-away cove, traversing sand dunes and camping in Snowdonia before climbing the highest mountain in Wales together. I also became great friends with other exchange students, and with them I traveled around Wales, England, Belgium and Italy.   

Something I wasn't expecting was that my education would be the most different part of my experience. I am a Visual Communication Technology major at Bowling Green State University, so I am used to three-hour labs, and lots of creative projects due throughout the semester. At Aberystwyth, however, hands-on labs were only for one hour, and my final grades and 'overall learning' were assessed through only two written assessments per class. British universities also do not require general education classes, so my classmates' lack of experience writing essays and giving presentations made me very grateful for our BG Perspective program.  

Even though the classes were much different, I still enjoyed them, and was able to apply my VCT experience by building a website for my Digital Marketing class, developing mock-ups and a working model of the products we were promoting in Branding, and designing promotional materials for the exhibition I helped stage and curate for the Aberystwyth University Art Museum.  

I think the biggest positive of studying abroad is the humble confidence it instills. I learned very quickly that asking for directions and talking to strangers was an uncomfortable necessity that I was not immediately the best at. Even little things like how to submit assignments and how to open doors (some were 'push' to open rather than our universal 'pull') I had to admit I didn't know. At the same time however, I learned that I was capable of more than I initially thought. I was able to put aside my anxieties and attended a traditional Welsh dancing class and learned I could have a blast even though I was terrible at it. In Belgium, I discovered that the little bit of French I knew was enough to get my friends and myself around for the weekend. To celebrate being done with finals, I took a solo trip to Barcelona, Spain, and confirmed that I really could make and follow through with travel plans all by myself.   

Everyone tells me this is a once in a life time experience, and I would have to agree that I was incredibly blessed and couldn't have asked for a better time abroad. Even still, I hope that rather than a one-time deal, this is just the beginning to a lifetime of adventures.