Colleen is an Ambassador who studied abroad in London
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I knew I wanted to study abroad from the moment I began applying to colleges. My family lived in the Netherlands for five years while I was in middle/high school so I have always had somewhat of an international background. I knew I wanted to go overseas again, but I wanted to do it independently, without my parents there to guide me. It took me a long time to decide on a program to apply to because I wanted to go to so many places. I was eventually drawn to London for two reasons. 1) It is an enormous multicultural city and 2) I had the opportunity to do an internship. Being in a city like London gave me the opportunity to learn about my host country's people and culture as well as other cultures such as Bangladeshi, French, and Jamaican.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
While in London I had the opportunity to intern at the National Army Museum. I worked with another FIE intern and we were assigned the tasks of helping research information and sort information for an upcoming exhibit about improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan. It was truly a surreal experience to be given the responsibility to listen to interviews and sort through personal pictures sent in by British soldiers, as well as documenting artifacts like bomb disposal suits and stretchers.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Overall my study abroad experience was fantastic. I went abroad not really knowing anyone in my group and came home with 29 new friends. Just stepping outside my door each day offered a new experience from experiencing delays on the Piccadilly Line to walking down the street to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform at Royal Albert Hall. It's also a pretty great feeling the first time you are able to give someone directions!
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?
There are so many benefits to spending a semester abroad. Studying abroad means immersing yourself in a foreign country for four months, which gives you the chance to experience another culture not as a tourist, but as a local. Being abroad was so rewarding because I learned to rely on myself and grew in confidence with each experience. I came to London completely lost and afraid to take the Tube by myself and by the end of the semester I was going shopping by myself in Camden Town and using my high school and college French to navigate my friends and I through France. Studying abroad gives you the chance to make friends with people you may never have crossed paths with otherwise. It also forces you to be flexible. Many weekends there was construction on multiple Underground lines so we would take the bus somewhere instead and in Italy it is quite common for trains to be canceled altogether with no explanation, which forced us to wait around and explore the city we were waiting in or find an alternate route. Professionally, the opportunity to do an internship made a big impact on me. This opportunity meant not just doing an internship, but doing an internship in another country. I learned a great deal about the differences between the British workplace and the American workplace, the work that goes on behind the scenes in museums, and about the British Army in general.
What advice can you offer for CSB|SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Don't let your fears of homesickness or not knowing anyone in your group initially hold you back. Go with the knowledge that things will be different at first, but you will adjust and the things that were once foreign to you will become second nature. Take chances and do not be afraid to try new things. Eat food you have never tried before, converse with the locals in shops or pubs, or take the Tube to a borough you have never explored before. Be aware of traveling in large groups though. The more people in a group the louder it gets and you do not want to stick out as "those Americans." Blending in is key! Also, save, save, save money! There are so many things to do and see in London and its surrounding areas, but the pound is much stronger than the dollar so things are much more expensive. Museums are all free which is a bonus, but the more money you save up before going abroad the more you can do.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in London? Email Colleen at email@example.com