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"Is That Carrie O'Maley?"

A Semester in London Makes All the Difference

I started my long journey to London from Fort Wayne, Indiana at 9 a.m. New Year's Day. So for the entire night before I agonized over what to take and whether or not studying abroad was going to be the biggest mistake of my life.

I went with my mother's advice and packed the bare minimums: a couple of pairs of shoes, a few shirts, and old undergarments and socks that I planned to throw away at the end of my stay. When I arrived in London in the wee hours of January 2, the other students on my program eyed my bags curiously. Every single person there,men included, had at least twice as much luggage.

Fast-forward to the last night in my Bayswater flat. The overwhelming sound of frustrated grunts from my flatmates was heard from Shepherd's Bush to Bloomsbury. All four of the girls jumped atop suitcases and pulled on zippers until they literally broke. I, on the other hand, had little problem fitting in the massive amounts of British clothes and miscellaneous European souvenirs I'd accumulated in four months.

On my flight over, from Newark to Heathrow International, I met my first American friend on the program, a girl with my same problem-she was leaving a boyfriend behind. My problem wasn't so much leaving the boy as it was leaving all my college friends. I'd never been one to be completely independent, and I never willingly entered situations without a close friend nearby to help me out.

But it took less than a week of phone calls and emails written at the nearby Internet cafe before I knew I'd made the right choice. As the weeks went by, I realized I really wasn't missing out on anything too exciting in Indiana. How can a fraternity party possibly compare with a night out club-hopping in the nightclub capital of the world?

Studying abroad allowed me to discover myself, away from all the familiar surroundings of home. No one I met on my trip knew anything about my past; thus I was able to start with a clean slate. I was forced to meet people. Never before had I been able to approach someone, extend a hand, and strike up a conversation. Many pub nights in London taught me to do just that, and that habit has traveled with me back to America. I've encountered many on my campus who ask, "Is that Carrie O'Maley?"

For the first time in my life, I really did do just about everything myself. I scheduled hotels and plane tickets and followed through with trips all on my own. Not only did I find my way around Central London and figure out the night bus system, I found my way around Prague, Paris, and Galway.

I aged faster in my four months abroad than ever before, arriving as an immature college student and emerging as a worldly adult. With graduation only five months away, I feel I've already experienced a slice of the real world by starting fresh in a new country. I know that the real world will never again be as glamorous and exciting as London; however, I also know that the real world does require independence, confidence, and the ability to meet and get along with new people-all things that my unforgettable London experiences have taught me.

This New Year's Eve, my mind was only half focused on celebration. The other half was thinking back to last New Year's Eve when choosing which jeans to pack seemed like life's greatest dilemma.

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