by Maya Reyes
Photography courtesy of Marissa Wu
Just hours before my flight took off for London for my semester abroad, I had a slight meltdown.
“I don’t want to go!” I whined to the two close friends who were seeing me off. “Just let me stay in one of your apartments this semester.”
I had been looking forward to living in London ever since I was first introduced to the concept of studying abroad. However, when I was faced with the reality, I realized I was scared. I had dreamed about going to Europe for so long that I was worried the experience couldn’t possibly live up to my expectations.
I had only been abroad once before: to Nicaragua the previous summer. Europe was an entirely new destination. All of my British knowledge had been curated over the years from books, television and movies. These may not be the most reliable guides, but they gave me hope of “finding myself” overseas. The expectation was a big one to fulfill and, realistically, I knew most days would not resemble movie scenes.
Regardless, I boarded the plane. I grew significantly over the course of the semester and I loved my time in London so much that, in the end, I never wanted to leave. I would complain about the inevitable goodbye to anyone who would listen. In short, the semester was a time to remember.
The fact that I was so far from home meant I found myself in a space where I could just live, without many of my normal responsibilities, and as someone different to whom I normally am at school or home. I came away from this feeling a lot more confident in myself.
It is easy to assimilate to little things when you are abroad. There was a point at the start of the semester when everyone tried to tone down their “Americanness,” as it soon became clear that people in the U.K. instinctively know when a foreigner is from the United States. Londoners are incredibly polite, and I felt as though being a loud American was disruptive, to say the least. You start to lower your voice when riding the Tube, and even want to use the term “take away” when you are getting food to go. At first, it was particularly difficult to come to terms with British work culture. However, I would like to think that I have learned when is the best time to lean into my Americanness, and when I should adopt British norms.
There is a lot of stock placed in different experiences being the “best time of your life”: high school, college, study abroad, your twenties, etc. In my opinion, this should stop. All of these experiences have their merits and while I loved studying abroad in the end, it added a lot of unnecessary pressure at first. Everyone around me wanted to do everything, from visit museums and attend concerts, to making out with random strangers with cool accents and competing for the best Instagram pictures.
My advice? Definitely make the most out of your time abroad, but don’t feel as though it absolutely has to the best time of your life. Instead, just take it for what it really is: a new adventure.