Depending when you study abroad and the duration you are at the University, I recommend getting involved either in the community or within the University. Just like in America, you can join clubs and also do community service overseas. However, when it comes to sports, most universities have teams that are made up the same way our high school teams were (i.e. varsity, JV, first string, second string, etc). This system allows anyone to join/tryout for the university’s sports team, unlike in America where usually only top athletes get chosen to represent the school’s team. Even if you aren’t interested in sports, there are many different clubs and opportunities to expand your connections and meet people from all over the world.
I highly recommend this because I joined the Swansea University Women’s lacrosse club while I was studying abroad in Wales and it made my trip so much more meaningful. This was a huge thing for me to do, as it was way out of my comfort zone to just go join a team where I knew no one, let alone the school or country I was in. However, joining the team was one of the best decisions I have ever made, acclimating me to the campus and country way quicker than I expected. During my time on the team, I got to become friends with so many people from all over the UK who helped immerse me into their culture in ways I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own or with my friends from America. One example of this would be when one of my friends who was on the men’s team, invited me and one of my teammates to his grandparents house on the outskirts of Wales to watch one of the National Derby’s. His grandparents welcomed us with tea, traditional Welsh food and even placed a few bets on horses for us. This was an experience I would have never been able to have if I never got involved and met the local students.
In Wales, every April they host Varsity. What that is, is basically an all day event where Cardiff University and Swansea University play each other in every men’s and women’s sport, finishing the night off with a rugby match in one of the professional arenas. It is the most talked about thing in Wales, besides six nations of course. Every year the event switches location, one year it is in Swansea and the next year it is in Cardiff. Students buy their ticket package in February, which includes a ticket, t-shirt, bus ticket and schedule of all of the sporting events. The first matches start at 9:30 am and by 10 pm, one University takes home the trophy, holding bragging rights for the upcoming year. As exchange students, we heard about this through our flat mates from the UK and bought the tickets right when they came out, as they sold out in less than 8 hours. It wasn’t until after we bought the tickets that me and one of my friends who went abroad with me (he joined the men’s lacrosse team) realized we were going to be participating in Varsity as players of the University vs just being students and experiencing that aspect. I wont get into all of it, but to say the least it was one of the coolest experiences I had while I was abroad.
While I was participating in my study abroad program, I got to play the sport I love again and also meet lifelong friends all over the world. This allowed me to see so much more of my university than I ever imagined, almost as if I was going to school there for the whole 3 years. Even if sports aren’t for you, I highly recommend getting involved in a club or even just in your classes. Time is limited while you’re abroad, unless you get the chance to go back again, so take advantage of every opportunity to see and immerse yourself in the culture – trust me, you wont regret it!