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Go International – try more, do more, fear less

​Today, Universities UK International launches Go International: Stand Out​, a three year campaign to increase the number of UK students spending time abroad as part of their studies. 

Just 6.6% of students complete a placement of this kind despite evidence that spending time abroad as part of a degree can improve academic and employability outcomes. 

Simmone Mclean, student at the University of Northampton, discusses her life-changing experience of studying abroad.

"Simm, you are going to quit your job and move abroad with your nine-year-old! What?"

Two years ago, these words and the idea of moving abroad to study with my nine-year-old daughter would have sounded insane, irrational and irresponsible to me but now they form an integral part of my most recent history.

In January 2017, I made the bold decision to embark on the Erasmus+ programme accompanied by my best friend, my daughter. It is one of the best decisions I have made in my adult life. It has opened my mind to a different train of thought and provided me with opportunities that I never thought would be accessible to me.

On first hearing about my experience abroad, people assume that I'm confident and extremely brave. However, like many others out there, I feel like I've been faking it in the hope that at some point I'll make it. In all honesty, my opportunity to participate in Erasmus+ came about through my curiosity about other cultures and the educational field trips offered by my university. I still pinch myself when I think about what I have achieved this year. Not on​ly did I live in another country but, just like Gloria Gaynor, I survived to tell the tale!

Studying in the Netherlands was so different from anything I've ever done or thought I would be able to do. Life out there was more relaxed and it instantly calmed my anxious mind. From education to childcare, the motto seemed to be 'try and see what happens' instead of the 'do and succeed'. This encouraged me to be more creative, to see fewer mistakes and embrace learning opportunities. Being there provided me with a new environment in which I could develop and grow personally and academically.

In terms of my personal development, living abroad was incredibly empowering. Everything was possible, and I could use a variety of creative media to express myself. My passion for singing and song writing was something that I could indulge and share with my classmates. I used my love of creative writing to contribute to a book collaboratively written with other students.

That's not to say that everything went perfectly. I had to manage my small household on a limited budget, which was a constant source of stress and I had no days off from mummy duties. But, the fact that I even made it to the Netherlands made me want to push through (that and encouragement from my family).​

As a mother, I beamed with pride as my daughter flourished in her Dutch-speaking school and made friends with children from different backgrounds. She never cried and was just as adventurous as me, sometimes more so! I truly feel that her bravery kept me motivated because I never want anyone to limit her and, as the only mother she has, I had to lead by example.

When I returned home to the UK nothing seemed to have changed. It was as if I had been living a dream for six months and had just woken up. That was until people, interested in my experiences abroad, began to ask me questions. It was then that I began to realise what I had accomplished and how my experiences had begun to shape my path for the future.

Not only did I have stories of my adventure to tell, but I also had a new mind-set that allowed me to try more, do more and fear less. This mentality is helping me to plan my future and apply for my post-graduate degree in educational psychology. I want to incorporate what I learned during my exchange and mydegree to my field of work, helping children and young people overcome barriers in their education and well-being. Alongside that, I have been given the opportunity to travel and share my story with others in the hope that they too will embrace these incredible opportunities and maybe even get to know​ themselves better.

I don't want to say that I'm a different person because I'm still me. But I believe I'm better for this experience in every way and that's not arrogance (I promise), it's pride. I am proud of what I have done and so incredibly thankful to the family, friends, lecturers and university staff who supported and encouraged me during my experience. It's vital other students know anything is possible and that taking a chance on themselves will pay off eventually. It took me a while to learn that but thanks to Erasmus+ I will never forget it.​

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