Study abroad in London: daily reality

By: Sabrina Halk

Transportation Trouble in the UK!

When I first arrived, the first obstacle I had to overcome was public transportation. Back in New Jersey, there are very few options for public transportation. The majority of people, like myself, utilize driving a personal vehicle as their own means of getting to where they need to be. Mass transit has certainly been a new experience to master as I had no prior knowledge about how to get to and from somewhere; it can be utterly terrifying. However, I can confidently encourage anyone now after experiencing it for myself that a bit of patience and taking a few deep breaths will remind you that it will be okay.

As someone who has some social anxiety, it is particularly challenging for me to talk and or approach others. So, when I was confused about where to go in terms of transportation at the airport, I had to ask someone that could help guide me and help me understand. As scary and intimidating as it was, I proceeded to ask. They were so kind knowing I was not from the area and explained, giving me a much better clarity of how it works in London. There have been multiple bumps in the road of missing the train or taking the wrong bus, but I learned every time what I did wrong. Yes, it is overwhelming and the reminder in my head is “it’s not the end of the world,” that I can just get off and get on another type of transportation. I can confidently now go on transportation without a worry about where to go.

Making Lifelong Friends!

As I prepared for my study abroad semester in London, one of my biggest fears was making friends. I have social anxiety, so approaching new people and making conversations can be a challenge. However, I don’t allow this to set me back; I like to challenge myself and face my anxiety head-on. My sister reminds me, ‘to be unapologetically yourself’, and the right people will gravitate towards you. This is something I try to follow, and since arriving in London the right people definitely came into my life!

When I first arrived, it seemed as though the other study abroad students had already formed their own cliques. This added to the intimidation; now instead of introducing myself to one person, it was to a small group. I knew I couldn’t keep to myself, so I dove headfirst and introduced myself to a group of girls, even though I felt incredibly awkward. This particular group of girls was the most welcoming people I have ever met and as soon as we started to all talk, we hit it off! Our now group of five, myself included, call ourselves the “Spice Girls.”

Our study abroad experience has created a unique bond; we go out together exploring London and have recently visited Paris. It is unbelievable how studying abroad brought us all together when we all live so far apart from one another at our home universities. We have laughed, cried, and shared hardships, but at the end of the day, this has strengthened our relationships. I have learned so much from these four incredible women and they have helped me grow as an individual. I admire them immensely. Whenever I am stressed or overwhelmed, they help me ground myself and put me in better spirits. I couldn’t have asked for better friends. We are quite the group, and I can honestly say, I hope that when we return back to our home universities our friendships continue long into the future!

International Studies

Although it is fun to go on new adventures and explore the new environment while studying abroad, it is important to keep up with your studies. Compared to the U.S., the academic structure here is completely different and has a learning curve of its own. It has brought up upheavals in my day-to-day routines. I have more free time, but I must continue to work on the assignments and not wait until the last minute. A helpful technique that has helped me balance my priorities was to create a to-do list.

In the U.S. there are a lot of assignments that get assigned during the semester, but here in the UK there are only essential assignments. For instance, in my ethics course, we have a ten-minute presentation to complete, and it is worth 50% of my grade. In this module, we only have two assignments, so it is essential to do well on them. I was worried regarding the assignment because I was not sure if I was up to the standards the lecturer had for her students that are not international. Although it is intimidating, I reached out to my lecturer explaining how I would like to meet with her about my presentation and to make sure I am on the right track. She did not hesitate to help me with whatever questions I had for her. She was truly amazing and made me feel more confident in my work. It does not hurt to ask questions, even when you think it is stupid. Questions help get a better understanding of the material you are confused about.

Luckily, St. Mary’s offers academic support for study abroad participants. It helps students get a grasp of the new structure and aids us in effective strategies to keep up with the academic commands in the UK. I have attended some sessions, and it has significantly helped me with my papers. I try my best to use all the resources that are offered to help me succeed academically. You have to put in the work to get a great outcome.

Spontaneous Opportunity!

Living abroad offers so many opportunities. There have been numerous trips and day excursions offered for both matriculated students as well as study abroad students here at St. Mary’s University. Some of which include Wales, Scotland, and Paris. Initially, I did not sign up right away for them as I was nervous as the trip was advertised to students with very vague itineraries. I am the type of person who cannot easily go with the flow, and I need to be organized with a clear agenda.

My study abroad friends signed up for Paris and were so stoked that they were going. I was content with my decision, but a little piece of me had doubts as the weeks got closer to their departure. As I’ve gotten older, I try to not live with regrets as my days cannot be reclaimed and I knew that if I did not sign-up last minute, I would regret it in the future. So, I reached out to the travel advisor here, to see if I can sign up still even with a week’s notice. Luckily, there was only one spot left, and I was able to go to Paris, France!

The Paris trip was truly surreal. It was everything I dreamed of and more! Not only this but my new friends were alongside me enjoying the beautiful history. Everything happens for a reason and although it was a last-minute decision, I found safety in the calculated risk. I am looking forward to exercising this skill more and strengthening my free-spirited side.

Farewell Yellow Brick Road!

During the spring break of my semester here abroad, I wanted to do something by myself for once. I had this inner drive to accomplish going out into Central London without anyone, to truly see my independence progress compared to if I was in the United States before this experience. I luckily was able to grab floor tickets for a concert that I wanted to go to so badly for the past years for the one and only, Sir Elton John. It was his last tour which was called the Farewell Tour. It felt liberating that I was going to go to an event all by myself. Although it may seem scary to most, I felt confident and excited about this experience.
The day of the concert finally came, and I had no worries or anxieties. I put on my Elton-inspired outfit, then made my way to the O2 Arena in Central London. Transportation went smoothly as well as getting into the venue. I was confused about how to get to the floor where my seat was, and I had no issue going up to staff multiple times to ask where to go regarding the seating. After finding my seat, I went up to admire the stage that stood before me. I made friends with some strangers, which were very lovely to me. They took some pictures of me in front of the stage. The concert eventually started, and it was the best concert I have ever been to. It was sad to hear Elton was retiring, but happy that he gets to spend his time with his family.
Looking back on the experience, I feel quite proud of how far I have come as an individual here abroad. Before I left the States, I would never go somewhere let alone to a concert by myself. My anxiety was a burden in my life and studying abroad took me out of my shell and pushed the boundaries that helped me blossom into the person I am today. I am beyond grateful and appreciative of this experience

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