Jacky Jones studied abroad in London with CAPA International Education during Spring semester 2014. Coming from a rural area in the States, she didn't have much experience with cities but found herself quickly adapting to her new home for the semester, occasionally seeking the solitude of London's many parks and free museums. Below, she talks about the value of CAPA's MyEducation events, a refreshing interaction with a local and what surprised her most about the city.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JACQUELYN JONES: My name is Jacquelyn Jones, and I’m from a tiny college in Maryland called Hood. I’m majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. Some of my hobbies include hiking, cooking and writing. After spending my semester abroad in London, I hope I can also spend some more time enjoying extended traveling.
CW: Describe your background for us in terms of travel.
JJ: The only other time that I have been abroad was to the Azores Islands to visit a relative who was serving in the military. To have my first international traveling experience be on an island so different from any experience that I could ever have back at home was eye-opening for me. My wanting to study abroad was born there, and it was only through an information panel at my college that I was able to see just how financially possible it was for me.
The reaction that I got from my family was overwhelmingly positive. They all agreed that it was one of the best, if not the best thing that I could do for my education. My friends were about the same, with a couple of them now pursuing a semester with CAPA as well!
CW: What were your thoughts when you were sitting on the plane to your host city? And what about the plane ride home?
JJ: While I was excited for the experience itself, I was also absolutely horrified that I would have to spend about four months away from my family and partner. In a way, that plane ride was one of the most nerve-wracking parts of my trip just because I didn’t quite know what to expect once I got there. No matter how many books you read or how many pictures you look at, there’s always a degree of the unknown. You’re still being plopped into a culture and area that you have no hands-on experience with.
The plane ride home helped bring me into some closure once all was said and done. I was really sick with a cold at the time as well, so getting back had a little extra incentive to it.
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
JJ: The thing about London is that it’s easy to adapt to it. I came into it expecting to hear every local carry a British accent, but instead I got a cornucopia of different languages, accents and ways of life. Within a week, I had the public transportation down and could get to more than a couple of places without consulting a map. I come from a very rural area of the States and didn’t even have much experience of being in a city, but London was extremely welcoming in its looks and public attitude. There were times that the massiveness of it was almost overwhelming, but I was able to admire it rather than fear it relatively easily. The real challenge, at least for me, was dealing with loneliness. I’m extremely close to my family and friends back here, so suddenly being catapulted into another country without them around was the biggest thing that I had to deal with.
My most rewarding moment had to be the realization that I had actually managed to live alone for four months at the end of it all. There were times when I thought that I couldn’t do it, but I pulled through, and I feel as if I’ve become a better person because of it.
CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your London" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
JJ: There were a number of nooks and crannies in the local parks that I would go to for getting some reading in. Since I’m more comfortable with being around countryside and rural areas, spending a lot of my free time in parks was a great comfort in giving me a few moments to almost forget that I was in one of the largest cities in the world.
The museums were also my ‘safe havens’ at times. I spent whole days in the Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert just reading and taking in as much as I could. In a city so noisy and boisterous 24/7, I needed that quiet space to help me reflect on myself.
CW: Define MyEducation in your own words. Which MyEducation event was most memorable for you and why? How did your participation in this event change your understanding of the city?
JJ: I would define MyEducation events as cultural opportunities that give students an easy way to get more in-tune with their host city. I would have never known about certain places and areas in London had I not utilized the MyEducation events.
Probably the most memorable one for me was the ‘John Keats walk’ around Hampstead Heath. Our group walked around the area where the famous poet lived and it was an amazing hands-on historical experience.
CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.
JJ: I had a wonderful experience with an older gentleman while we were waiting in line for early tickets to a play at the National Theater. He gave out snacks to everyone waiting and let me sit on the blanket that he had rolled out on the concrete while we chatted. We ended up sitting next to each other during the actual show and talked during the off periods. He left such an impression simply because he was so kind and welcoming towards me and everyone else that he interacted with. In a city environment where everyone usually just keeps to themselves, his kindness was an oddity that I found incredibly refreshing.
CW: How did you fund your time abroad?
JJ: For me, a semester abroad only cost a little more than a regular semester at my home institution (counting room and board), so the base tuition wasn’t that difficult to pay for. The majority of the rest of my funding came from my job at a supermarket.
CW: What surprised you about London? What did you discover that went beyond your expectations or stereotypes that exist of the city?
JJ: What surprised me the most was both the city’s physical size and the vast diversity of its people. Not only that, but that the city itself is incredibly safe. I never once felt as if I was in danger or in an unsafe environment.
CW: What changes did you see in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
JJ: I’ve definitely become more independent, and that’s a personal quality that I couldn’t be more grateful to have now. I’ve also learned that studying abroad is more than just an opportunity, but an amazing experience that helps you grow into a completely different person over the course of just a few months.