7 Takeaways from My Study Abroad Experience

Aug 6, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Alice Ding

Alice Ding

Alice Ding is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Computer Science and Marketing major at Northeastern University, she is studying abroad in London this semester.

In her last post, Alice reflects on her semester abroad in London and 7 important things she's taken away from this experience, including some of the challenges she has overcome.


My study abroad experience has been everything that I’ve imagined and more. While I can’t exactly say that my life is forever changed and I’m a completely different person, I can say that it was an experience that I’d highly recommend to anyone and everyone and that I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve fallen in love with London and am keen on visiting again, whether it be for more school or just for travel.

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding - In Front of Tower BridgeThis was from my first weekend in London on the bus tour provided by CAPA.
How time flies!

In general, though, to sum my experience up as best I can, here are 7 takeaways from my study abroad semester in London as well as some of the challenges I faced along the way.

1. Independence

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding - Selfie in PragueA selfie taken in Prague: definitely one of the most beautiful cities
I've ever visited. And, of course, a selfie!

Above all, the first and most prominent aspect that I learned about myself and life in general is the concept of independence—not only accepting it but also using it to my advantage. Coming into this study abroad, I knew next to no one; it’s hard to really establish friendships to the point where you do everything with people after only six weeks. As a result, I found myself traveling and exploring the city and surrounding areas alone, especially since I had an abundance of free time that other people did not have since I had class two days a week and no internship.

I explored, for the most part, by myself over the past six weeks. I went to markets, museums, even separate cities (Oxford and Prague) alone. One of the highlights of my trip was definitely my small escape to Prague in the Czech Republic, something that lasted a full 5 days and 4 nights where I spent all of that time by myself.

I found it convenient not having to depend on others for planning and even while there, it was nicer to only have to consider what I wanted to do and my own needs. Everything about the little adventures I did was flexible, from the timing to the activities I did to the food I ate. Not only is traveling alone almost liberating, but it’s also just a breath of fresh air and relaxing. The cons were definitely the lack of someone to share my experiences with and having to take pictures by myself… Selfies galore!

2. The Concept of Carpe Diem

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding - At the Annual International Gelato Festival in Covent GardenThe annual and international Gelato Festival was at Covent Garden this year
and had over 15 different flavors of gelato to choose from.
Definitely something that I didn't expect to do but had to take advantage of!

Six weeks doesn’t sound like a long time and trust’s not. Carpe diem, or seize the day, was something that I ingrained in my mind over the course of my time abroad. I made it a personal goal to do at least one thing a day, whether that be visit a landmark, go out and eat, or anything else that came up (like a gelato festival that I attended on the last weekend of my trip!).

Due to the small window of time that I actually was in London for, I wanted to ensure that I was exploring as much as possible and making use of my time abroad wisely. As a result, I only had 2-3 rest days during my entire time abroad.

Ironically, I realized that having that specific mindset was something I should adopt even in my own college city of Boston. I reluctantly admit that I haven’t done many of the basic ‘touristy’ things such as visit the New England Aquarium, Museum of Fine Art, or any other museum in general. Having spent already four years here, I realize that I should probably try to do a bit of exploration here in Boston as well to seize the day.

3. Open-Mindedness and Culture

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding - A Savory PiePies in London are savory and usually filled with meat;
when Americans think of pie, most people usually think of a fruity dessert.
It's something to really think about, you know?

I feel like cultural awareness is very difficult for Americans. In the States, I think it’s safe to say that we live in a very ethnocentric bubble where we believe that our way is the only way and that by default, everything else is ‘weird.’ People don’t think of London as a very foreign place, and it’s not by any means drastically different, but I realized very quickly how closed-minded Americans can be, even myself. I’ve always thought of myself as more open-minded since I was raised by immigrants and my upbringing isn’t the typical ‘American’ experience, but even in a place like London, I still found myself questioning things and immediately assuming they were strange.

Whether it be the idea of different foods being made different ways—like tuna salad with corn in it, or questioning why the Tube is so quiet when Americans themselves are just loud—I came to the conclusion to just absorb and try not to question as much. Just because Americans do things one way doesn’t mean that every other way is ‘weird’ or ‘strange,’ it’s just different and different doesn’t mean wrong by any means.

4. Freedom

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding - On the Plane Back from PragueOn my way back from Prague. London looks so beautiful from up above.

While in London, I found that freedom was very much in abundance, even more so than my time as a university student in Boston. The first taste of freedom was in regards to our apartments. University housing works differently where the visiting policy was very much controlled by my school (only three people at a time and you have to sign them in, as well as tap yourself in every time you enter the building), so the concept of just going and leaving as you pleased at any time (in accordance with CAPA's housing policy) was a luxury that was a bit different from what I was used to.

One consequence of this is the responsibility that comes with it. At school, if you forgot your ID to get into the building, they’d still let you in within a few minutes. In London, I ended up losing my flat keys at one point during the trip and had to pay for replacements as well as wait for flatmates to show up to let me in, illustrating the real-life consequences of this new level of freedom.

Additionally, there was also just the freedom of traveling in Europe as a young adult. I’ve flown domestically before in the US by myself, but it’s very different and almost a lot more nerve-wracking abroad. Passports, making sure you get to the airport on time, going to different countries on your own…it’s a good type of liberation to be able to go somewhere by yourself and do everything on your own. It's a new level of responsibility and freedom that you don’t really get to experience back home in the States.

5. Professional Connections

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding - At the Financial District for a Marketing Conference on Data Privacy in the EUThis is a part of the city's financial district, an area where our professor had us attend
a marketing conference concerning data privacy in the EU!

The professors who teach at CAPA are some of the finest I’ve ever met. They were qualified, professional, fun to be around, and just in general amazing human beings. Even though I may not have been able to work with them professionally, I know that these individuals will be beneficial to keep in touch with down the road, especially my international marketing professor who keeps in touch with his students and has amazing connections throughout the UK. He’s much more experienced in the realm of data and digital marketing, a field that I want to go into as a computer science and marketing major, so he’s definitely a useful resource to have moving forward. I consider myself very lucky to have met him and plan on maintaining that relationship for years to come.

6. Appreciation for History and Architecture

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding - A View of London from The ShardA view of London from The Shard.
The complexity of this city is just astounding; modernized or historic, I honestly couldn't tell you.
The combination of everything that makes London what it is has given me
a new perspective on everything I see from the streets to the buildings to even their roofs as well.

When walking through London, you truly get a taste of modern and historical architecture. The buildings reflect the city’s age as well as its modernization, and it feels like every street has a mix of both old and new, skyscrapers juxtaposed with almost traditional-looking structures. Even in Kensington, where CAPA is located, you have a huge Holiday Inn surrounded by smaller, older buildings that have been refurbished into hotels, restaurants, and, of course, schools such as CAPA. The sight of it all truly makes you appreciate what’s around you and has made me want to notice more of my own city’s and town’s aesthetic as well. How do the buildings define the city? How has the city grown in its path to modernization?

7. Friendship

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding - A Group Photo with My Friends at StonehengeA group photo at the Stonehenge!

This may be cheesy, but the connections I made with my fellow peers are truly irreplaceable and irreplicable. We spent six weeks together in a foreign country living in (for the most part) the same flat, went to the same classes, experienced the same ‘culture shock’ and explored London together. While a majority of us go to different schools and probably won’t see each other for at least a few years, we joked about having a ‘10-year CAPA reunion' during the farewell dinner. I’ll miss the friends I made dearly, but we all inevitably knew the split would happen. Perhaps the knowledge of our departure was what made us closer, but I know that I’ll cherish the time we had together and the experiences we shared will stay with me for years to come.

CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Summer2018_From Alice Ding -Shot of London from AboveI'll miss this city like crazy.

In general, my experience in London was fantastic and really cannot just be placed into words. I learned in and out of the classroom, experienced travel in ways I never have before, and also discovered more about myself and how to really take advantage of life as a whole. I know that I’ll remember everything that I learned in London for the rest of my life, I’ll be able to apply them to how I approach different situations, and I’ll remember how it’s helped me learn and grow for the remainder of my college career and later when I start my young adult life after graduation. Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I made in college and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it if given the opportunity to do so. I promise you won’t regret it!

Thanks Alice!

See more of Alice's journey in London.

Learn More about the CAPA London Program

Topics: London, England, Personal Learning, Reflection