On the night I left to study abroad in London, my dad was still under the impression that the school was picking me up from the airport. Meanwhile, I clutched the plan I made up in my phone of bus routes and taxi phone numbers to get me to the home I’d be staying at. Even with all the luggage I carried, I felt a bit unprepared for four months in another country. You can do all of the reading in the world about a city, but it’ll never come close to what you experience in the streets.
After a nerve-wracking, sleepless night on the plane, I arrived at London-Heathrow Airport and spent a couple of hours groggily waiting in the long, winding customs line. By the time I officially received my student visa stamp, I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I almost forgot to exchange my American dollar bills for British pounds as I rushed to catch the bus, which came only once every hour. I made it, but couldn’t understand the driver’s super thick accent, and tried to hand him too much money. After holding the bus up with my incompetence, I was embarrassed, but finally on my way to the house where I’d be spending the semester.
I made it to my destination safely (although I did almost get hit by a car after getting off the bus— I still wasn’t used to the opposite direction of traffic) and met my housemate from North Carolina, who arrived later in the day (and was responsible enough to RSVP to be picked up from the airport by the school). She ended up becoming one of my best friends, as well as a couple of girls from Long Island, and a girl from Belgium.
Within the first month at Kingston University, I had a solid friend group comprised of people from Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Greece, and of course, the United Kingdom. The other students from the States and I learned that college in the UK is way more lax than in the United States. The professors didn’t assign much work until finals week, but they had a way of teaching that was more effective. I felt as though I was actually learning when I was in the classroom, something that I thought professors in the States couldn’t quite replicate. In America, it seems as though educators want us to learn outside the classroom, so they assign projects that make us feel like we’re doing work for the sake of keeping busy. For me, that method is not as effective. Because the professors in the UK didn’t assign much work, we had way more free time to socialize, travel, and follow our passions.
From September until December, my friends and I made the streets of London our home. Half the time when we arrived at Waterloo Station we didn’t have a final destination in mind. We wandered around familiarizing ourselves with the tube, with Central London, with Leicester Square, and with Camden Town (which became my favorite part of London). We did some touristy things like taking pictures in front of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace (it was our first time there!), but we also blended in with the culture by going to concerts and hanging out in pubs in non-touristy areas.
Studying abroad contributed to my late graduation, but I would have gladly pushed aside graduation for another whole year to do this. It may sound cliché, but studying abroad is a life changing experience. You gain a broader perspective of the world, which is especially crucial in today’s society, as we’re more interconnected than ever. You gain a better sense of yourself through traveling and the people you meet along the way– personally, I found a new sense of independence and empowerment– but most importantly, you’ll make friends with people from other countries that you’ll have for life, and that was my favorite part of the whole experience.