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International Exchange

Things They Don’t Tell You Before Going Abroad: America

26 September 2018

Hi everyone,

I’m currently two months into my study abroad at San Francisco State University in America. Studying abroad is a huge commitment and before you begin the process here are some things I wish I’d known more about before I came!


We were told a little bit about the great transport links in the city, but you need to consider this! In San Francisco, the use of muni buses and trains is essential for getting around as it’s such a huge place. I felt limited when I initially looked at my housing options as I didn’t realise how fast the buses were so stayed close to campus. Compared to Cardiff, a relatively small city, walking in many US cities is not an option as they’re so big, so consider transport when looking for places to live. Also consider the cost of transport. SF State provides us with prepaid cards, which saves a lot and is super useful, but it may not be the same for lots of other universities.


Cardiff was recently said to be the second cheapest place to be a student in the UK and coming to America when you can do your whole shop in Tesco or Lidl for under £30 was a shock. The cost of living is considerably higher here, especially in San Francisco where big stores like Walmart are banned within city limits to keep smaller businesses going. Although GO provides a bursary (larger if you stay within the Erasmus program) in terms of rent and the general cost of living, this may not be that helpful.

Also consider: If you’re only going for a term, think about your Cardiff housing. I am paying two lots of rent in both America and Cardiff because we aren’t allowed to sublet. If you can sublet (ask your agency) GO can place you on a really useful database and match you with an international student looking for a place!


Consider the culture of where you’re going! Due to globalisation etc. you’re not going to go hungry or hate every single food. There are McDonalds and Starbucks everywhere and the student staple of pasta is readily available! Even Cadbury chocolate occasionally pops up in American supermarkets. The biggest cultural change I’ve personally experienced would be drinking. The drinking age in America is 21+ and as much as we may hate to admit it, drinking is a big part of British student life, and life in general. If you’re someone who likes to nurse a pint in the Woodville and have a good chat with friends but you’re not 21, genuinely consider this before coming to America. Most bars won’t let you in if you’re not 21, even if you do just want a lemonade and a bond with your older friend! Although this is NO WAY the be all and end all of your application, it’s something to consider, and you can still have an amazing time without going to events at bars, just enjoy the giant Starbucks menu and make sure you immerse yourself in the culture and other events that are going on! SF State has an amazing international council which brings together all the international students at least once a week so you meet new people in lots of different ways.


In my first month in America, I did not deal with the distance. I like to assert myself as wildly independent and as someone who never gets homesick, but it does happen! Cardiff has been my home for the past two years, and I am currently around 5,000 miles away from it and all the people I love. If you’re someone who gets home sick easily, don’t completely write off the possibility of study abroad! Read below for more info!

If you’re still struggling: Putting yourself out there, go to as many events as possible and really try to be part of the city you’re in as it can really help! If things aren’t working out how you planned, the study abroad team in Cardiff are just an email away and so are the people on your host campus! Everyone wants you to do well and make the most of this amazing opportunity. Do consider the time difference when contacting Cardiff though, if it’s that bad your host institution are probably the first port of call.

Selecting a Program

GO and your school’s individual teams are super helpful in talking through all the options. I remember Summer programs being mentioned in an initial talk, which I wrote off in my mind as I wanted to go for a longer time, but if you’re someone who doesn’t want to be away from home for as long or simply doesn’t want to miss freshers, this could be for you! In my school (ENCAP) there are also multiple choices for both European and international schools. As I mentioned previously, European schools come with a higher bursary and some, like Leuven and Groningen, are really close to the UK if you feel you won’t cope with a bigger distance. However, do consider the language barriers in some countries. This does include English speaking nations like the US! American’s have a lot of different words for things and sometimes this can get tricky, and in some cases annoying when you’re explaining for the twelfth time in a week why it’s a lift not an elevator and what a fortnight is. (genuinely not a word in America, I was shocked, they just call it two weeks?!)


This is a lot of paperwork! You need to be organised and ON TIME for this to work! There is also a necessary trip to London for an American visa. Also, be prepared to have a certain amount of money in your account for each form, as each form costs money, as well as a working printer. Plus, no water in the embassy! It isn’t as hard as it seems you just need to take time! And when you get to US border control, make sure you have all the correct documents out. On top of this, the institution you apply to has to send certain forms for you to take to your visa appointment. Do not expect these quickly but try not to get stressed about them either! Post can only move so fast around the world!

Are there any other things you want to know more about before studying abroad that you wish you’d been told? Comment below!