Julie Pike / Staff Writer

By: Julie Pike, Staff Writer

I am nearing the end of my semester abroad. Ninety days, eight countries, and almost no money left in my bank account. As lucky as I have been to be able to travel this extensively, I’m more than happy to come home.

There’s less than three weeks left to go till I will finally be back in the states. In my last days here my time will consist of writing essays, going to Christmas markets, and enjoying the time I have left with the friends I’ve made here.

Up until this point I’ve been busy traveling to new countries and across England, with barely any breaks in between. Now the closer I get to being home, the more homesick I’m starting to feel. I long for a home cooked meal, to sleep in my own bed, and just to be with my family and friends. I figured these three months were going to go by fast, but it’s these last couple weeks that seem to go by at a snail’s pace.

However much I do long to go home, I know I’m going to miss Winchester once I’m gone. The town itself is the quintessential English town, with its cobblestone streets lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. I love having everything I need within walking distance. Although going into town this time of year means facing the brutal cold weather.

Cold weather aside, Winchester is the best place to be for those who love the holiday season. A huge Christmas tree sits in the middle of town, all of the streets are lined with festive lights, and then there’s the Christmas market. Right by the cathedral are dozens of stalls selling a variety of gifts such as homemade scarves, candles, ornaments, as well as hot food and beverages like pastries and mulled wine. I’ve become addicted to mulled wine, it’s like Christmas in a cup. I’m contemplating bringing home a jug of it when I leave.

Walking into the Christmas market you’re engulfed with the smell of cinnamon, apples, and cranberry, all of the smells that make you think of Christmas. Strolling through the different stalls with a cup of hot chocolate in hand makes being out in the cold worth it. They’ve also got an ice rink set up in the middle of the market, although I don’t have the guts to go skating.

Looking back at this past semester, I’ve realized how this experience has helped me become more independent. I’ve never been this far away from home for this long before. Being away at school for the semester takes a new meaning when you have to cross the Atlantic ocean to get there.

When I was feeling sick I couldn’t go home, when I was missing my family there was nothing I could do. You’re left on your own. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but in the long run it will only be beneficial. Now I know what to expect when I move away from home.

This experience has also showed me what’s it like to be immersed in a different culture. Although England isn’t drastically different from the U.S., it’s still a new place. The way people talk, the food they eat, the stores, restaurants, and transportation were all unfamiliar to me. It didn’t take me long to adapt to the new culture, but I do miss the shops and food at home that I’m used to.

At this point in the semester I’m beginning to question whether or not I got everything out of this experience that I could. I got to travel a lot, and I wouldn’t take those experiences back, but I worry that I spent too much time traveling and not enough time getting involved at school. My friend Julianna who goes to school in Virginia, joined the rugby team, volleyball team, and a church group. She’s busy almost every night of the week but she’s met lots of new people and took advantage of what the school offers.

As great as it is to be able to attend school in a new country, I knew wanted to see more of Europe while I was over here. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. I wouldn’t have been able to join any club or group because I wouldn’t be able to commit.

Overall though I’m happy with what I’ve gotten from my semester abroad. I made friends from all over the U.S. and other European countries. I visited eight different countries in a 90 day span. I’ve climbed the eiffel tower, saw the Swiss Alps, and threw a coin in the Trevi fountain. Not to mention all of the food I’ve had, from the beer in Germany, pasta in Italy, and pastries in France, it’s like I’m Santa fattening up for the holidays.

Since it was Thanksgiving last week, it got me thinking about how thankful I am to have gotten this opportunity. For the holiday two other friends and I cooked a traditional Thanksgiving meal for a group of 20. We showed people from England what our holiday is like, stuffing yourself full of food, enjoying good company, and reflecting on what you are thankful for. I’m thankful for my family and friends who have supported me and helped make this experience a reality.

For any fellow students at USM who are contemplating a semester abroad, I would say without hesitation that it is worth it. Take this advantage to travel and get out of your comfort zone, you won’t have this opportunity later in life. Go and stop in at the International Programs office and find out what they have to offer. I promise you will not regret it.


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