Rachel Steenson 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 before I even applied to St. Ben's that I wanted to study abroad. It has been a dream of mine since elementary school. First were visions of boarding school in an exotic European location, then coursework at Oxford University. After learning that these were nearly impossible for me to do, I changed my dream to studying abroad, making St. Ben's a very attractive option for undergrad. The London program was therefore a no-brainer -- since I had hoped to live and study in England, London was a very close alternative -- perhaps even made better than just studying at Oxford because of its location, access to museums, arts, culture, and the fact that I would not have to brave it alone, but instead be with 24 classmates and a CSB/SJU faculty member.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
I took an optional side-trip to Istanbul with my Islam course, and it was a huge, eye-opening contrast compared to my posh life in London. Both were undeniably beautiful, but such different examples of beauty -- London being so 'Western' and orderly and uniform, whereas Istanbul is such a great example of 'Eastern exotica' with its colorful scarves, markets, and spices. Yet at the same time, I was learning about Turkey's quest to be recognized as a Western state, and thus it made me examine what it means to be Western -- appearance of culture, or democratic ideals? Turkey's history includes attempts at incorporating both into its culture and ridding itself of the Eastern feel, to varying degrees of success. Part of my findings became the source of my term paper for Islam, of which I was very proud.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
In one word: brilliant! It was a wonderful experience where I grew an amazing amount in a short amount of time, learned how to work and live with others, learned how many other cultures view Americans, fell in love with a city, gained some amazing hands-on experience of my courses while there, made some lasting memories and lifelong friendships.
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?
For me, going abroad taught me a lot of real-life lessons without leaving me entirely on my own to figure it out. It made me more independent, but also taught me when to rely on a support system when I needed it. Long story short, studying abroad can teach a person some wisdom, provided that they fully work toward embracing the lessons that are given.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Do all that you can to embrace the culture in which you are immersed. Do as the locals do (within reason). Do not try to bring "Little America" to your host country, because not only will it cheapen your experience, but also it may insult your hosts. Its okay to write home for peanut butter, but don't choose a peanut butter sandwich over trying a traditional meal at least once. It's all part of the experience!
Do you have questions about studying abroad in London? Email Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.