I’ve been hearing this question a lot. My mom, my best friend, my roommate, my roommate’s boyfriend (I’m really excited to go abroad, so I’ve been telling everyone, OKAY) — they’ve all asked it of me in the past few weeks. Poor little Wales, unlike big-name London or Paris, seems to require my justification. Don’t get me wrong: nobody was disparaging the Welsh, or thought I’d be better off spending spring here in Madison…they just wanted to know what made me put my finger on the UK between England and Ireland and say, “There. That’s where I gotta be.” So, if I may, I’d like to say a few words on why I chose Wales.
Once I decided to study abroad, picking a country to apply at was actually simpler than I expected. Europe’s always been the dream, so I started there. The language barrier was incredibly helpful for the next step of the narrowing process. Since my French is limited to “je m’appelle Melanie” (my name’s Melanie) and “je ne sais pas” (I don’t know), I went ahead and ruled out Paris. My Italian is even worse (my Sicilian grandma would be ashamed), so Italy was out, too. Using this method I whittled my options down to Spain, Portugal, and the UK.
From there, I dove into the IAP website to see what type of programs each region could offer me in the spring. Again, simpler than I expected! (Thanks, IAP.) As it turns out, schools in London seem to be fantastic for things like business and social sciences – and maybe not so fantastic for zoology or ecology, my passions. The same goes for Spain and Portugal. People (I think) tend to go to Europe for the art, the culture, the rich history! But not for the environmental studies. I was starting to get just a tiny bit worried…until I found the University of Cardiff, in Wales.
You guys, this place is incredible. Ranked 5th out of all UK universities, Cardiff was established in 1883 and is a leading research institute as well as a relatively prestigious school. Sound familiar? I wasn’t trying to find a Madison analogue in my search for the perfect study-abroad program, but the things that I love about the UW just so happen to be the things that make Cardiff an ideal choice. Because they focus on research there, the Earth and Ocean Science program is strong, innovative, and right up my alley. Undergrads like myself can take classes like Biogeography, Environmental Pollution, or even Paleoecology! My nerdy excitement went off the charts. Cardiff was The One.
But it got better. I did a little clicking around and discovered that according to Cardiff’s website and good old Google Image search, Wales is gorgeous. Mountains, coastline, and interesting architecture – did I mention castles? Castles, too. I can’t wait to be hiking, biking, and strolling all over the darn place, wearing out my boots and my camera battery. Conveniently, also, Wales is nestled right up next to England and just a plane or train ride away from the rest of Europe; let the wanderlust commence.
“Sooo…why Wales?” Each time it was asked, I fielded this question with some (shortened) version of the above. And each time, I saw my mom (or my roommate or my friend)’s eyes light up as they caught my excitement. I saw them get as worked up over my Welsh fantasies as I was. I saw the same libraries and mountains and castles dance above their heads. I’ll miss all of those people (okay, maybe not my roommate’s boyfriend) while I’m away, but knowing that they share in my enthusiasm will help me through the homesick moments.
But I’m not homesick today. Today I’m flying to Heathrow, and I have two more hours in the O’Hare airport to raise awareness of how awesome Wales is! …And to figure out which gate I’m leaving from, and how to get there.
Wish me luck,