"Now that I’ve had the time to reflect, I can confidently say studying abroad delivered on many of the things I was hoping it would, but perhaps in ways I didn’t expect." In Will's final, reflective blog post, she shares what she gained from her semester abroad in London.
When you study abroad, you get asked a lot why you studied abroad.
If you asked me 4 months ago, I, like most of the other students I talked to, probably responded by saying that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wanted to make friends. Studying abroad certainly is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most people, but why is making friends one of the most common responses? All of my flatmates and classmates said they didn’t have a problem with the friends they had back home, but rather, they felt unsatisfied with other aspects of life.
I think most of us were in a rut when we decided to study abroad. We were bored, too familiar with the lives we made for ourselves in our respective colleges. Many of us felt that we had settled into our majors, our friendships, our career goals, and ambitions. I remember the creeping feeling of graduation getting closer and closer, not knowing if the career I was about to embark on is something I genuinely enjoyed, or if I would be proud of the people who I chose to become lifelong college friends. I wanted study abroad to give me the chance to check in with who I was and what I wanted.
Now that I’ve had the time to reflect, I can confidently say studying abroad delivered on many of the things I was hoping it would, but perhaps in ways I didn’t expect. With that said, I’d like to share some amazing things my semester abroad gave me that I will carry with me through the rest of my life...
My pre-departure planning binder.
A Change to Wake Me Up
College changes people, and it changes them fast. Even though I had only been in school for two years when I decided to study abroad, I already could not believe the contrast between my high school self and present self. With all that growth happening so quickly, it makes it easy to question whether you really know your “new” self. Your thinking gets cloudier the more you doubt your objectivity when it comes to your own life.
I studied abroad because I didn’t feel like I knew myself and my dreams anymore. I moved to another country because I needed a change that would wake me up, and wake me up it did.
My suitcase the day before leaving the US.
Space for Self-Discovery
When I got to the United Kingdom, I was tired. After the traveling, airport chaos, customs, and moving into our flat, there was nothing I needed more than sleep. But my mind was wide awake. I walked around, explored, took a lot of deep breaths, and I intentionally thought to myself: “You are 21, you are in Europe, and you are the freest you will ever be.”
Dancing in Amsterdam rain.
This thought propelled me through the next two months. At least once a day I took the time to stop walking, look up and around, and think deeper about where I am and how I am feeling. I paid closer attention to the things that were exciting to me and that I enjoyed. I learned that I prefer writing about theory as opposed to more technical pieces. I appreciate strict deadlines and an approachable supervisor. I tend to travel without an itinerary, and that is okay.
Hidden disco room in Amsterdam.
For two months my classmates and I were in a sort-of incubator of self-discovery. We were torn away from our culture and put in situations that forced us to analyze what we were thinking, saying, and doing. Of course, our own cultural awareness was being stretched and challenged, but in order to do that, we had to practice being hyper-self aware. While that can be tiring for some, it was freeing for those who had just come from feeling too comfortable in their own lives.
Friends over in the flat.
By the end of my time in London, I had a clearer picture of who I was and what I wanted. I could not believe how different I was compared to when I first got there. My internship convinced me that the nonprofit sector is where I’d like to work throughout my life, and that I enjoy my work more when I am required to be involved in the community in order to be good at my job.
My classes taught me that the United States’ educational traditions are not the only way to learn. I had more essays than exams, and I learned a lot more because of it. I severely struggled with remote learning, but that at least taught me about how I learn, and why I value learning.
The Women’s Rally on Oxford St.
A Second Home
Living every day there was the best part. I will miss the buildings, the history, and the cloudy ambiance (even if the dreariness got to me some days). I will always be interested in European politics, and I cannot wait to read more about Brexit negotiations. I loved my neighborhood in the posh West Kensington, and how accessible everything was by public transport. I will miss feeding the birds at Hyde Park, where I went for my very limited free time during the weekdays.
A Second Family
More than anything, I love my flatmates and “honorary flatmates”. I said I wanted to make friends, and that was true. I may not have realized why I studied abroad at first, but they helped me realize it. My friends nurtured growth in each other, and were eager to talk about it. We didn’t just experience everything together, we processed it together. Individually, we all grew as people, but we could not have done that without our openness and dedication to each other.
Our last day in our neighborhood; West Kensington.
It was sad having to leave London so abruptly. There really is no sugar coating that, and yet, I got what I needed out of the experience. I went there to jumpstart myself, to gain perspective, and to make friends— and I did just that. Coming home to quarantine, it’s so easy to fall back into the habits that put me in that rut before London. This time, though, I know myself better and I know what I need to do to get myself back on track.
I am grateful for every second of my time in London. So I guess the question to ask me now is... why am I glad I studied abroad? The complex answer I’ve been dancing around turns out to be quite simple: It gave me so much of myself, and it gave me so many people.
To my flatmates: thank you for everything.
Will Baldwin is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2020, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Technical Writing and Communications and Political Science major at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
Will's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.