The task of getting involved in your local community, as well as your campus community can seem a bit daunting when you go abroad. I definitely had to do some adjusting of my own in my first month or so of my semester in Stirling, Scotland. After attending the IFSA orientation in Edinburgh and meeting some awesome friends with whom I’m still in touch, I was able to take what I learned and use it to make the most of my semester.
My IFSA orientation taught me a lot of valuable ways to cut costs on necessities like transportation and food while in the UK. I saved money by buying a Rail-pass for the trains, and a ton of time by having my groceries delivered to my flat instead of going into town to shop every week. I was also very frequently reminded of the importance of joining clubs and societies at my university, which turned out to be such an important key to my happiness while abroad. By the end of the semester I was in love with the university and the town of Stirling.
How to Join Clubs and Societies
I formed an important bond with Stirling by becoming involved with university clubs and societies; I researched them on the Stirling University website before I even arrived. I then made sure to attend the student organization fair the first week of classes, and sign up for the clubs that I knew I would enjoy, as well as a few that I thought I might try out for the first time.
These student-run organizations opened so many doors and opportunities that I didn’t even know were going to be available for me while abroad. I joined the golf club, and the mountaineering club, as well as the volunteering society, and the international society. Thanks to my involvement on campus, I was able to find friends who were from Scotland, and these connections helped me feel far more at home even though I was over 4,000 miles away from everyone I knew.
Joining the club golf team was by far my favorite aspect of my semester abroad. The team was so massive and competitive, and all of the guys and girls on the team welcomed me in with open arms. I was involved in club activities every week as we had practices, matches, tournaments, and social events quite frequently. The team also gave me invaluable perspective on certain aspects of Scottish culture and values. For example, during one of our home matches against another Scottish university, my opponent was struck just below his eye by an errant tee shot. This was a truly terrifying moment for all of us that witnessed the blow. I was definitely worried for my playing partner as we rode back to the clubhouse where he was then taken off to the hospital.
As unlucky of a situation as this was, I was shocked by the amount of sympathy, sensitivity, and support I received after the match was over. I was told in person and messaged numerous times by different members of the team that they were there for me after hearing about the traumatic experience. They told me not to hesitate to reach out to them to talk, or for help finding an adult to talk to. These messages all made me feel so supported and at home, and it truly opened my eyes to the amazing degree of sensitivity that all of these Scottish natives had in them. This realization later became even more present as the golf team participated strongly by selling ribbons during the Stirling University Mental Health Awareness week. The fact that this week even existed was a huge positive in my mind, and it occurred to me throughout that week that the social stigma around mental health is not nearly as heavy in Scotland as it seems to be back in the US.
Another fun way that I was able to put myself out there and meet new friends was when I entered a 5-a-side intramural football league with a handful of IFSA and non-IFSA friends. We played week after week, and often in cold, heavy rain, but we certainly made the most of it. This was an amazing opportunity for us to become even stronger friends as it linked our schedules together each week, while also forcing us to get outside and get some exercise.
The societies at the University of Stirling were plentiful, and I enjoyed my experiences with both the volunteering and the international society. With the volunteering society, I went into town every Thursday evening to volunteer at The Haven.
The Haven is a very special space that works with a local church to serve underprivileged children in the community by providing them with free homework help and meals. I joined this club with a good friend of mine who was also studying with IFSA and we always had a great time helping these kids in need, and giving back to our community while abroad. Each week I was paired up with a new kid, and every one of these individual experiences helped add up to my overall appreciation for the chance to participate as a global volunteer.
Bringing it all Together
Overall, I am very proud of myself for being able to step so far out of my comfort zone and put myself out there in terms of joining new organizations and meeting all new people. I owe IFSA a lot for the opportunity to explore myself in different environments. I would not have truly realized the importance of joining clubs and societies if I had not gone through the IFSA orientation in Edinburgh. Without joining these organizations, I would have missed out on these outlets that inevitably brought me closer to the local community than I ever thought was possible.
Jameson Howard is a Business Administration and Nonprofit Leadership major at William Jewell College. He studied abroad with IFSA at Stirling University in Stirling, Scotland in the Fall of 2018.