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Building a Life Raft Out of My Memories from Study Abroad

Jun 23, 2020 9:26:00 AM / by James Nightengale

CAPA London alum James is finding happiness by looking back on his memories from London and reliving his favorite moments through photos. Join him as he reflects on his time abroad!

It is deeply strange to try and imagine what I could have been thinking as I first stepped onto a plane headed for London on January 8th of this year - so much has changed since that moment that the memory feels like a relic from several lifetimes ago. I know I was incredibly excited and nervous, filled with that kind of queasy anticipation that can only come from taking a huge step in a new direction. What I could not know was that the world I was choosing to leave for a few months would change profoundly by the time I returned. In a weird way, studying abroad while simultaneously watching Covid-19 slowly spread across the globe turned an already unforgettable experience into something far more potent and powerful - a reckoning with institutional fragility that I experienced firsthand, as the governmental systems designed to support us grappled with something we were all completely unprepared for. 

My time in London was clearly shorter than I bargained for, but it was also far more unforgettable and affecting than I could possibly have hoped. I often find myself clinging to those few precious months as some of the happiest and most consistently eye-opening of my life so far, and how strangely they stand in comparison to the months which directly follow, which have been filled at first with monotony and more recently with outrage and pain.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Friends at StonehengeA photo from one of the first CAPA-sponsored trips we went on to visit Stonehenge and Bath. Besides seeing a world-famous landmark and visiting a historic city, this was the day I solidified some powerful and lasting friendships with people I am lucky to know.

My hope is that I can use this post to shine a spotlight onto the magical, messy, and ridiculous small moments that studying abroad can bring, perhaps bringing a moment of levity to a profoundly difficult time. The following photos represent moments that I now desperately hold onto and protect at all costs during a time when it can be difficult to focus on the good. I smiled a lot while putting the images for this post together, because each one evokes such an emphatically happy response from me. These photos from my time abroad, along with many others, have become a kind of life raft for me, always only a couple taps away on my phone when the world becomes a little too hard to bear (which it often is nowadays).

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Friends in FlorenceA candid moment in Florence! I ventured here with a few friends for our spring break, and every single day was absolute paradise.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Friends in ChinatownOne of my friends in a different study abroad program came to visit me in London, and I showed him around Chinatown and Soho, two of my favorite neighborhoods!

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Last DayThis is one of the last photos I took in London, as it was on the very last morning, before we hopped in a car to the airport. I particularly love the way everyone is posing in this one.

If there’s one thing being abroad has taught me, it’s how invaluable having a friend at your side can be - how much more confidence you gain when someone is willing to enter an unfamiliar space with you, or go to a new pub, or just take a walk through a different neighborhood. Being abroad helped me learn invaluable lessons about myself, my queerness, and what I want to do professionally, but it also introduced me to some pretty incredible people. Even in an outrage-inducing and deeply tumultuous moment such as this one, this continues to ring true. 

Thanks for sticking with me for this long! Donate to your local bail funds! Support the black people in your life! Continue taking action and being self-reflective!

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_FlowersSome beautiful flowers just starting to bloom right around the corner from my flat in West Kensington.

Thanks, James!

James Nightengale


James Nightengale is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2020, sharing his story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Psychology and Screen Studies major at Clark University, he is studying abroad in London this semester.

James' journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA London Program

Topics: London, England, International Education