As someone who grew up in Southern California, I never expected myself to spend a lot of time abroad in a country with rare visits of sunlight. Yet, once sophomore year turned around the corner in college, I knew I wanted to study abroad. Currently I am a student at the College of Saint Benedict and what I remember most about my experience with applying to study abroad was the difficult choice of deciding where to go. Where could I fit in? Or where could I get the experience I had always dreamed of?
As I looked at brochures and heard stories from previous applicants, I finalized my decision and chose to study abroad in the great city of London. The program I chose to study under was designed under the program called FIE, Foundation for International Education, which offered me courses abroad as well as a 6-week internship during the second half of my term abroad. This sounded like an exciting opportunity for me and I was anxious to see how I could get the opportunity to go abroad with my current course load. You see, back on campus I am a STEM major student studying in the field of Biology with the intent of going off to medical school after undergrad. So applying to go abroad for a semester would require me to take a gap year and to switch around courses. Even so, I chose to do so and the rest, well, is history.
I attended meetings on campus to learn more about the program and once I was admitted to the program, I attended meetings so to meet other people on my trip. As the months went by, and more informational meetings presented themselves, I began to feel anxious about leaving the U.S. I had never been across the Atlantic in my life and it made me nervous to be off on my own. I tended to always keep myself in a positive mindset and brush it off. It wasn’t until the moment I had to buy my ticket to go to London that I realized that the fall semester was ending and I was clearly off to a new adventure. I can remember it clearly, sitting in my apartment’s living room with my legs crossed like they teach you in elementary school. Sitting in my sofa chair with my laptop on the arms rest clicking the purchase button. As soon as I hit the confirm button and had my receipt saved on my computer I called my parents. I began to think of what to pack, what I would wear, what I would do, how the city would be and more. I think that for the rest of the day, I was in a joyful mood.
As the term came to an end and I went back home for about 2 weeks, I began to think of my flight and how I was going to survive 10 hours in a confined place, thousands of feet in the air. On the day of my flight, I had packed everything in one big suitcase thinking it could hold it all. Yet, as I began to move it to the car, the handle broke and I was left luggage-less in the front of my house with about 3 hours until my flight. I remember panicking, thinking one, I am not going to make it to my flight and two, thinking that everything would not fit into my other suitcase which was about half the size of the other one. My mother helped me pack into the other suitcase so fast that I think I flew out of my house in order to catch my flight. Once at the airport, I had to exchange money at one of the stops because I didn’t have any pounds on me. In terms of exchanging money, I had never done it myself before. I’ve travelled internationally to Mexico since I was 12 years old with my mother and she would take care of the money. Now, I was travelling internationally once again but across the Atlantic and by myself without any help from someone.
With that, I turned to take my flight and surprisingly enough, I didn’t feel as though the 10-hour flight was that bad. I think it went even better than I thought it would. I slept a bit, which is an abnormality for myself, watched three movies, and heard some music. It wasn’t until the pilot announced our initial descent that I started to stare out the window in order to see if I could distinguish something. At last, homes began to come into view and I began to realize that I was finally landing. I picked up my luggage and met up with my roommates and friends from Saint Ben’s & Saint John’s who had flown in on the same day as myself. We then began to search for a way to get to Metrogate House, a flat building designed for FIE students, in order to pick up our keys.
There I was, jet-lagged, deaf (ears hadn’t popped), and quite excited. As a group, with my future roommates, I took a taxi into the city from the Heathrow Airport. The nice taxi driver talked about places we should visit and what kind of people we could encounter within the city. He gave us tips about what taxi drivers were real, which weren’t, and how to be safe as well as where to go grocery shopping, student discounts and more. He was a very helpful man and throughout the first weeks in London his information proved to be vital to me. Upon my arrival to Metrogate, I checked in and picked up my keys. To my surprise my residence, Hyde Park Gate, was about a block in a half away from the house and I lived on the fifth floor of the building with no lift. So I walked with my roommates up the flat and up the stairs with a suitcase, a backpack, and a carry on. Believe me when I say that I arrived to the flat, sweaty and exhausted. The flat was really accommodating, pretty, and spacious. The main kitchen was large and the smaller one was big enough to fit at least three people cooking dinner. Upon arriving I entered my room to find a triplet bedroom with a bunkbed and a single bed, a bathroom, and small cabinets by our beds. I installed myself in and started to unpack. I unpacked that night and went out for dinner with my roommates around the area.
By the time we were hungry, the sky began to darken and I had no clue where to eat dinner. So my roommates and I voted to go towards Gloucester Road Station in order to find a place. As we walked, I noticed how the homes surrounding our flat had the same kind of architecture with attention to detail. All the homes I passed looked so similar and the shops I passed by seemed like little pit stops you could possibly make on my way to class on day. Once I arrived to the intersection of Gloucester Road I ended up walking past the Burger King and the Tesco when I stumbled upon this Lebanese place. My roommates and I chose to eat there so to try something different and quite quickly, I began to panic because I didn’t know the social cues in how to ask for food, a table, nor how much the tip rate was. It was an awkward first night adventure, nevertheless I got through it with flying colors. I had a good dinner and learned that sometimes you have to get up to order and pay and that sometimes certain words you say are not what you think.
Regardless of that, I was excited to go grocery shopping and to figure out what the area was like. During my first week in London, I attended excursions through the program FIE and I attended some get-togethers held by the program for all of the universities being hosted by the program. I got to prepare myself for my courses and began to plan where I wanted to go. I began my week by taking my British and Culture class on Monday, my Sherlock class hosted by the director of my study abroad program here in London on Tuesdays, followed by my travel writing class during the late afternoon, and my photojournalism class on Wednesday/Thursday’s. Then on Friday’s, I could go explore the city on my own.
As the semester progressed, I hoped that I could learn the most out of every opportunity. I hoped that everywhere I went, I could learn more about myself and who I was or who I could be. So as I am off to another new adventure, stay tuned for the next blog post about my new discoveries.
Until next time….