Study Abroad Reflections

This blog hasn’t been updated in a few months because last semester I studied abroad in London and blogged at https://breezetravels.wordpress.com/. I’ve wrapped up that blog, but I wanted to write a longer reflection post now that I’ve been stateside for a while. This first post will be about what I learned, and I’ll be publishing a follow up about my readjustment(reverse culture shock) in a few days.

Reflections

While I was still in London I kept getting the same question, “Do you think you’ll come back?”

And the answer is yes. And no.

 I have a full year and half before I finish my degree. There’s absolutely no sense in pining away for Europe when I have a life here. There are things I loved about London and living in Europe. I’m left with so many wonderful memories. And to be quite honest there were things I hated. But the longer I’m back, the more I realize what London meant to me, and my time abroad is given more context.

meparliament
In front of Big Ben. Photo credit: Janie Sircey

University

As far as my university experience goes, I think the biggest benefit was being in classes with international students and hearing a different perspective on the same things I’ve been learning about my whole life. Whether it’s the Cold War or environmental regulation, the differences in viewpoints often surprised me. Weirdly my environmental reporting class, which I had been assigned to by the study abroad office because they changed the modules offered right before classes started, ended up being one of my most interesting classes because it was so small that I really got to hear the perspectives of the students.

It was sometimes frustrating to hear people say things about American politics, policy and culture that I consider to be complete misinterpretations. But that’s a large part of the study abroad experience. Understanding what others think about your country can be unpleasant, but it also opens your mind to looking at things you take for granted in a new way. Developing that kind of perspective is critical  if you want to work in a globalized world.

Travelling

In the span of three months I went from having never travelling outside of my own time zone, let alone country, to now having been to six different countries (Yes, I’m counting Wales).  The number in itself is meaningless, but the experiences aren’t. I went to places where I fell in love immediately and places where I probably will never go back. There is something magical about breathing in the crisp autumn air and wandering the riverbank of a new city at night with the twinkling lights reflecting on the water. And as much as I’m glad I chose a major city for study abroad, taking trips to other parts of England gave me a better sense of the country.

It seems like such a simple thing now that I’ve done it, but living out my dreams of travelling and living abroad gave me some overdue inspiration.

The Seine at night.
The Seine at night.

Living in a foreign city

I went to the tourist attractions, it’s true, but I also explored parts of London that most tourists don’t get to see. I became a regular at places, and I made friends with locals( well English people at least-most people in London aren’t from London) instead of spending all my time with other Americans.  I did things that I thought were London-y like going to the BFI Southbank, and I did things I would have never imagined doing. I learned about English culture, but London is such an international city that it gives you a better sense of the world as well.

St. Paul’s Cathedral where I attended evensong.

Learning who I am

I’m a Marylander. I’m a Tar Heel. I’m an American. These are some of the labels I strongly identify with, but when you’re living in another country you quickly realize those labels are somewhat meaningless. Being so far removed from the things that define me have forced me to learn who I really am. Study abroad has made me more open-minded by letting me interact with new cultures, travel to new places and get out of my routine. I feel less intimidated by the unknown and more confident in my abilities.  But it has also put me more in touch with my own values.

There’s a quote from Dan Campbell about finding where you want to be that I absolutely love. It’s always resonated with me, but never more so than after living in London.

“The entire world seems to want to leave. Everywhere I’ve ever been, when you ask what’s cool there, the response is, ‘Nothing; this place sucks. I can’t wait to get out.’ But, if everywhere sucks, where are you going, and why?… A lot of people hate a lot of places, but it’s not enough to just run away from them. You need to figure out what you love and what you don’t, and place yourself in this world according to that, or you’re going to end up miserable no matter what city you’re in.”
Dan Campbell about the song “Hoodie Weather”

Being removed from the pressure-cooker of UNC let me reevaluate my priorities and my own happiness. I like to joke that I’m my own worst enemy, but it’s true. Being away from my normally stressful environment made me realize that I don’t have to let things wear me down the way I do. The world doesn’t stop turning if I’m not constantly worrying about the next thing or the last thing or anything.  It’s made me realize that it’s good to push myself, but I shouldn’t worry so much about failing.

I probably shouldn’t have needed to be an ocean away to come to terms with that reality, but that’s how it worked out. I think my time in London was probably the first time in a very long time that I wasn’t constantly preoccupied with the future or planning the next thing.  As much as I dislike the phrase personal growth, that’s what study abroad was for me.

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