Words and photos by Jill Sylvester, a political science and Spanish major from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who studied abroad with CAPA London during spring semester 2016.
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“It is a bittersweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace, nothing is ever the same.” - Sarah Turnbull, Author
Dear Future CAPA Students,
You’re probably excited. You’re probably nervous. You’re probably happy to have the chance to explore another city and continent, but sad to leave your friends and family behind while you embark on this journey. Let me tell you, all of these feelings are completely normal. You may be from a large city in the US such as NYC, or you may be more like me and have only lived in small suburban towns. No matter what your background is, London can seem daunting, but believe me when I say you are making the BEST decision by studying here.
Photo: With flatmates in Notting Hill
Photo: Tower Bridge
I came to London for the spring 2016 semester and it was a life-changing experience. I became more confident, independent, flexible, and culturally aware. I made life-long friends and saw sights that I had only dreamed of visiting.
Photo: CAPA London Student Council
Photo: Imperial War Museum
I want you to also have the time of your life, so here are the best things that I learned and can pass on:
Photo: Buckingham Palace
1. EXPLORE YOUR CITY. You are going to be in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Obviously you have to visit all the tourist attractions, from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben, but also be sure to venture off the beaten path. Stroll around beautiful Marylebone, find The Parent Trap house in South Kensington, get lost in Hampstead Heath, and climb up to Highgate Cemetery — maybe even go to the infamous Cockfosters stop on the Piccadilly Line! (cue endless giggling)
Photo: Obligatory red phone box shot
It’s easy to find a cheap Ryanair flight to another country for a few days, but make sure you’re not doing this every weekend. You decided to come to London for a reason; there is so much to see and do in the city, so make sure you give it the time it deserves.
Photo: Primrose Hill
2. FIND SOMETHING THAT REMINDS YOU OF HOME. Odds are you are going to feel homesick at some point in time, which is okay! It’s only natural, and a great remedy for this is to find something in the city that feels like home to you. It may be an American restaurant that reminds you of home cooking, or it could be a place. For me this area is Greenwich. I grew up visiting Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts each summer and it’s my favorite place in the entire world. I visited Greenwich during a field study for my European Government and Politics class, and I was marveled by its similarities to Martha’s Vineyard. I felt like I was back home with my family walking by the ocean. Finding a place like this will help London feel more and more like home.
Photo: Greenwich Park
3. EAT EVERYTHING. This may be the most important advice you receive. London has amazing markets: Portobello Road, Borough, Camden, and the food is incredible! The options are endless, from Dutch to Turkish to Korean to Brazilian cuisine. I went to each of these markets multiple times and didn’t eat the same food twice (except for the Camden Market churros because they’re too good to resist). Also make sure to try some cultural foods that are important to the UK. Get curry on Brick Lane, eat traditional fish & chips, sit down for a proper English breakfast, and enjoy an afternoon tea. Whoever said that England doesn’t have good food clearly didn’t know where to look for it!
Photo: Camden Markets
4. VISIT THE MUSEUMS. What do college students love? Free things. What does it cost to visit some of the best museums in Europe? Nothing! London is home to some of the most outstanding museums and artifacts. You can see the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, learn about WWII in the Imperial War Museum, and admire Renaissance artwork in the National Gallery. There’s a London museum to satisfy everyone’s interests. And did I mention that these are free!?
Photo: Rosetta Stone
5. BE OPEN-MINDED. London is diverse, and in ways that I had never experienced in the US. The city’s diversity and multiculturalism will challenge the way you view the United States in the world. It’s important to not only accept this, but to embrace and encourage it. You will learn so much from people around the world who have also come to London.
Photo: Internship colleagues
I worked alongside nationals of China, Romania, Canada, Poland, and Slovakia at my internship, and the students at my placement came from Singapore, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, and Kyrgyzstan, just to name a few of the many countries. It was a truly international setting, and from this I learned how to work through cultural differences and language barriers. You can learn more than you can imagine just from talking with and being around people from different backgrounds.
Photo: Trip to Brighton
You are going to return to the US as a different person. You will have learned about your goals, ambitions, capabilities, and desires. You will become a more worldly student and citizen. You will take what you’ve learned, bring it back to the US, and teach others. I am confident that you will take advantage of all the opportunities that await you and that you will make the most of this incredible experience.
Photo: Tea with scones and crumpets at Harrods
I wish you all the best of luck! Enjoy every second because a three month semester abroad will go by too quickly, a summer term even more so.