Studying Abroad in London with CIEE
A Hop Across The Pond
|Studying in London is liberating for any student.
An Extended Excursion in England and Europe
After a 9-hour flight, losing five hours between time zones, and juggling two small suitcases through the underground Tube stations, I was greeted with two words: “You alright?” The whimsical accent carried an air of composure, and I nodded in response to the vague question. The stories are true: the British accent pulls you in. Every sentence seems to end on a quizzical note, as statements and questions blend together; according to my British friends, I was “Abbay?”
I was to spend four months in Southeast London at Goldsmiths College, a division of the University of London. I chose my transferable English courses (English taught by the English!) and secured a dorm room at Goldsmiths. I was going to London!
I found CIEE, a third-party international exchange program, through many Google searches and conversations with my International Advisor. The CIEE staff made the process manageable: they assisted me through each step of the application process, introduced me to my fellow London-goers via email, and provided me with arrival information and accommodations. Upon arrival I was greeted by one of CIEE’s London-based staff members.
After an introductory night in London (wining, dining, tours, and hotel stays are great features of a third-party exchange program), my CIEE-Goldsmiths peers and I were escorted to the University (“Uni,” as the Brits call it).
My days and nights consisted of seemingly “normal” activities: “snoozing” my alarm, attending classes, studying, and staying involved in a fairly busy social life. Of course, all of these “normal” activities were slightly unfamiliar: they were accompanied by British accents and many pints of beer. Yet in my experience, no matter where you travel, people are people — we all tend to enjoy the same things.
The weekend was my designated “travel time.” CIEE did coordinate several local weekend outings, as well as one weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland (again, third-party perks). When there was a free weekend available between editing my papers and CIEE excursions, friends and I planned our own weekend trips with the assistance of Expedia.co.uk (Expedia can be accessed just about anywhere. Depending on your abroad location, adjust the URL link). Using our combined knowledge of European travel (which was nonexistent), my friends and I successfully toured Germany, France, Italy, and Ireland with the use of maps, tourist dictionaries, many Google inquiries, and our curious, perhaps needy-appearing expressions. Trust me: if we could do it, anyone can.
Within my first month of living in London, I called my International Advisor: I wanted to extend my stay and live out the full academic year in Southeast London. Through email and Skype chats I chose new courses and confirmed my stay at Goldsmiths. This is how I see it: when else will I have the time, financial assistance, and sufficient reason to go abroad? Study abroad was a great opportunity, and the option to extend my stay and continue with my international studies was the chance of a lifetime.
Cultural Immersion as a Student
|Street scene in London. Photo by Abby Ringiewicz.
What valuable information would have been beneficial had I prior knowledge of it? To be honest, I don’t think that there is any way to fully prepare yourself for a study abroad experience. Just remember this: you are not a tourist, you are a student. My word of advice: just get through the first few days. You will undoubtedly miss your friends, your dog, and your usual coffee at a favorite establishment back home, but after those initial few days, you will be overwhelmed by the intensity of what your are currently experiencing. Study Abroad Advisors will warn you of this initial culture shock, but there is no understanding it until you find yourself surrounded by luggage in a foreign airport with signs and intercom announcements in unfamiliar voices and languages. Deep breaths. I promise you, those initial thoughts of panic will be the worst of your time abroad.
I should also mention the importance of budgeting. It is easy to get caught up in the razzle-dazzle of a foreign country, and it is even easier to spend all of your hard-earned cash on drinks, destination t-shirts, and food. There are two things to keep in mind: you likely have no in-flow of income; and foreign currency is just like the U.S. dollar. While you are abroad, unless you have some sweet set-up, there is no weekly paycheck to fall back on. It is also easy to get caught up in the colorful bills and the various coins. Remember: your bank statement at home (in the real world) will reflect what you spend in foreign currencies. Of course, these are special circumstances, just try not to get carried away with your spending so you will not come to regret it later.
What I Learned in London and How it Inspired my Future
Since returning from London, I have found use for my international experience. I am currently a student advisor in our International Programs Office, where I help students choose their study abroad locations, fill out the tedious paperwork and answer any pre-departure questions. I work to make their experiences abroad as easy and enjoyable as were my own.
As far as job hunting, studying abroad has given me:
a) a great topic of discussion in interviews and applications;
b) a great networking source, as I have kept in touch with many of my professors and other acquaintances in London;
c) outside knowledge and inspiration.
As an aspiring journalist, the fact that I have actually seen the world gives hiring magazine editors an impression that I am independent and cultured. Having a sense of the world outside of your college campus will give you a leg up in the job market, I can assure you.
Yes, re-entering the real world was tough, but I have since realized that I am not the same person that left from Logan Airport last year. I matured as a person; not only because it was time, but because I had to. After studying abroad I can read any map; bargain with anyone; say “thank you” in multiple languages; even fashion a raincoat from a shower curtain. But, more importantly, I can rely on myself when necessary. And that is a pretty great accomplishment in my opinion.
Abby Ringiewicz is from Massachusetts and is currently living in Providence, Rhode Island. She is an English student focusing on journalism, with the hopes of completing a masters program in travel journalism. Abby spent her junior year abroad in London, and she will be returning to the British Isles in May for three months. She has a passion for traveling, cultural immersion, and writing.