Sarah is an Ambassador who studied abroad in London
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
Studying abroad was one of the main reasons I decided to go to St Ben's. At the time I wasn't sure where, but I knew that going abroad would change my life, and Saint Ben's would offer me the best choices.
As I learned about all the programs, it became harder to narrow it down. They all sounded great. But there was one that kept ringing in my ears: London. I had been to London before on a short Spring Break my first year at St. Ben's, and it had left an impression. I felt like I was selling out since London was the most expensive and an English-speaking, relatively easy experience. Let me tell you; it wasn't. Yes, some of the programs are more emotionally and culturally difficult, but what was important was that I chose a study abroad program that fit me and what I wanted perfectly. It also offered an amazing experience to internship at a London office, and alone was enough of a selling point for me.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
My interview for my internship was definitely a memorable one! I for some reason had remembered the wrong time, and so I looked at my packet just to look things over and realized that I was already late! I was horrified. The people on the program had told us how we should double check the underground, make sure we were there on time, and make sure we looked nice. I was a total mess. I emailed my internship supervisor and ran out the door, hoping they would still meet me. The tube ride was 40 minutes in which I shook in terror. I finally made my way to the building and, what do I find? My supervisor is the nicest woman ever, and immediately buys me a cup of tea and tells me to relax, this time actually works out better (doubtful, but it still made me feel better). The interview goes great, and, well, so did the rest of my internship there, and I am so happy that I went ahead with the internship program, as it has not only solidified my interest with living abroad again, but also with working in the nonprofit sector.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
There were four main things about my experience: The first was the flat experience. Living with eleven other girls taught me a huge lesson about communal living. At first I was annoyed since I could NEVER find time to myself. And then when I finally could, I found myself getting lonely. Having twenty four other Bennies and Johnnies constantly around took some getting used to, but we swiftly became family. I know this might be unique to our group, but the only thing we lacked was drama. We all got along so well, and we still do.
The second aspect of my experience was my classes. We didn't just live in London, but we learned in London. About British life and culture, about theater, about interning abroad, about Islam, about art. This learning went beyond the classroom; there are hundreds of museums and parks in London where you can learn anything and everything. I learned so much in London about the city and people and even myself.
Thirdly, my internship. It gave me a special insight into the working aspect of London. I got to meet and get to know working Londoners and learned about their work ethics and office life. I truly enjoyed my time at my internship, and it definitely dominated a good portion of my experience.
A fourth aspect of being abroad was being, well, abroad. Being in London gives you an opportunity to see yourself in the wild. Being away from my home country gave me a chance to test the waters in a new social structure. Even the easy stuff like going to Starbucks or the grocery store had me learning new ways of doing things. It also gives you a chance to travel. Knowing that I could take a plane and in two hours be in Paris was a bit amazing. I took a 15 minute flight once and went from Scotland to Ireland. You take a 15 minute flight from MSP and you probably are still in Minnesota.
The best way to describe studying abroad is opportunity. You can have the world at your fingertips, but you have to choose what to do with it. There is so much that London has to offer, you just have to decide what you want.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Studying abroad gives you a true experience of independence. I have been abroad without my parents before, but never for that time period. It truly allows you to build strength on your own and learn to live independently. I found myself becoming for confident and self-sufficient as the days went on. Every choice I made was my own. It was both freeing and scary. In the end, I appreciate the freedom I had, as now I know I am ready to head out into the world alone.
Interning in London definitely helped prepare me for the professional world. I learned so much about working with other people and learning how an office works. I learned how to do basic clerical work but also about researching for grants and writing up documents for funders. I feel more confident in my abilities to head into the workforce and I know that my time in a London non-profit makes me a more attractive applicant for jobs.
Studying in London has also given me a glimpse into what it means to be a student in a different country. Even though their system is different and might seem easier, British students have to apply themselves and the independence of the system means they have to put more energy into their work. Studying in London has strengthened me academically because I now have an experience that will add to my understanding of the world that I can bring to the classroom and teach other students. I have learned about the world from a different perspective, which will be invaluable in all aspects of my life.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Don't be afraid. I spent so much time worrying if London would be the right fit, if I would have enough money, if I would get along with everyone. It's okay to worry, because it means you will be prepared and that you will have found solutions, but don't be scared. Studying abroad is supposed to put you out of your comfort zone, and at first things might be a little crazy, but then you will make your friends and find your pace, and you will fall in love with your life. Don't forget that everyone else is freaked out, and that is how you will bond: through your crazy experiences, your amazing chance at seeing a new place, and all the mischief you are going to get up to. Money is a factor for some, and if you are worried about spending, there are ways of saving and not spending money. London has a lot to offer for free: parks, museums, riverside walks, festivals, the city itself. If you take the theater class you pay a fee, but you get to see so many plays - it pays for itself over and over again! And the Oyster card you get can take you almost anywhere, London is huge, and you could see so much for nothing!
Do you have questions about studying abroad in London? Email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org