My September Reflection on Studying Abroad

This past month has been a whirlwind of emotions, experiences, and exceeded expectations. I still don’t quite know how to put it all into words, but suffice to say London has won me over (not that it needed to in the first place).

Before flying over to London for my semester abroad, I had been to the rainy city more times than I can count. With family in the UK and my dad’s recent move to the city, London was beginning to feel like a second home. But how could it be a home if I had never lived there? Thus, I developed my personal goal for studying abroad: make London feel like home. This made me nervous as I often grow attached to places too quickly and quite often find myself moving away sooner than I would have liked. Having lived in four states and six cities in the past 20 years, I have become accustomed to living out of a suitcase. Part of me was afraid to open myself up to London only to have it torn away from me come December. This was a fear I knew I had to overcome, however, and I made the conscious decision to allow myself to feel whatever emotions I wanted to feel.

When I touched down in London town, my dad was waiting for me at the arrivals gate in Heathrow and I couldn’t help but remember the scene in Love, Actually when the recently divorced dad is coming back to see his kids. I let myself feel excited to see my dad, whom I hadn’t seen in several months. I felt happy and scared and full of love all at the same time—it was great.

Moving into my dorm was made a lot easier by the fact that I would be living with my two best friends. Living situations in college can often be stressful, and, when they are not ideal, this stress permeates into every other aspect of life, tarnishing what might be an otherwise fine endeavor. So, I let myself get excited to live with them, I let the butterflies build up in my stomach, and I kept reminding myself that I did deserve to be happy. Allowing myself to feel happiness without simultaneously feeling guilty for being happy has been a constant struggle in my life for as long as I can remember. I didn’t want this complex to ruin my once-in-a-lifetime chance of living in my dream city. So I kept reminding myself that everybody deserves to feel happiness, even me, even you (yes, you, reading this).

I had moved in, reunited with my friends, said goodbye to my dad (who only lived a couple miles away), and now it was time to experience London on my own terms, away from my family. Not that I don’t love my family, but the only experiences I have in London have been with them and I know I’ve missed out on a few things (hint: alcohol, clubs etc.). While clubbing was by no means something I thought I might thoroughly enjoy, I knew that I wanted to experience everything I could while in London and being of legal age. So, I told myself that I was going to say ‘yes’ to a lot more things instead of playing it safe and staying home. While I by no means wanted to outdo myself, I did want to try new things. This newfound mindset cumulated with me meeting new people who have since become my dear friends and getting to know the city from a whole new perspective. While I don’t think I’ll be going to many more clubs, I have found that I do enjoy a good pub once in a while, not to mention my new craving for cider.

Traveling is something I both love and hate. For instance, I love traveling to London and staying for a few weeks. I love going on ski trips and enjoying nature. I also love driving to a campsite and pitching a tent. What I do not like about traveling is going through the extreme stress of airplane travel only to spend one or two nights somewhere and then having to go through the stress of airplane travel a day or two after arriving. This kind of traveling just so happens to be the kind of traveling done during study abroad and this made me extremely nervous. I get a lot of anxiety traveling, which is ironic because I went to a boarding high school that I had to fly to, I go to college across the country, and half of my family lives overseas. So, theoretically, I should be a pro. But I’m not, and I was worried that this would hinder me from experiencing Europe via cheap airfare. So, I told myself that I won’t be getting the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen for $50 again and that I just have to suck it up (to a reasonable extent). I will never be one to travel to a different country every weekend, but I am happy to say that I will be making a total of four trips to four different countries during my time here, something I am very proud of.

Now that I’ve mentioned most of the fun that goes on during study abroad, it’s time that I factor in the ‘studying’ aspect of study abroad. While the classes are notoriously less work than regular classes, they do involve some effort. I consider myself a strong student, I enjoy learning and have been ready to get back to school since August.

However, what I did not factor into this semester was the amount of learning I was going to be doing outside the classroom. After exploring the city, traveling to all corners of London, discovering different coffee shops and pubs, meeting new friends and sharing experiences with them, planning trips together, and doing all the mandatory touristy stuff, it’s almost impossible to think about going back to my room to write a 2000-word essay. I don’t want this to come off as insensitive because I know how vital education is and how interesting it is to be getting the British side of it. However, it still is hard to force yourself to study when Hyde Park is less than a block away and the pub on the corner is hosting Trivia Night.

There have been a few times where I have told myself that, while it might feel like a vacation, I’m here to get an education and I can’t neglect my classes altogether. That would be an irresponsible waste of my tuition money. But there’s another caveat to this and that is that focusing too much on attaining the perfect grades will just ruin my experience here. While I do value hard work, I also value a work-life balance, and it’s important to remember that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I will never again be able to live in South Kensington, so I better take advantage of that while I can. I will also most likely not be taught by British professors and so I should take advantage of being able to have conversations with them about world politics and culture and whatnot. My point is, there is a balance that one has to strive for during study abroad and it’s okay if the scale is slightly (just slightly) tipped in favor of memorable experiences rather than studying.

To conclude, my first month has taught me a lot about making friends, saying yes to new things, attempting to balance my studies with my social life, and living in London as a true Londoner (something I am more than positive a native Londoner would never say). While I might be falling short on the work-life balance (I decided to write this instead of crack down on my 2000-word essay due tomorrow), I am most certainly overflowing with new experiences and new perspectives. I am proud of myself for allowing myself to feel all these emotions purely and I am excited to see what the next couple of months have in store. September, you’ll be a hard one to beat.


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