Sarah: Things I’ve Learned Abroad

Hey there, terriers! Long time no see!

To those of you recently accepted to Boston University – congratulations! You are among the best and brightest in your class, and your reward will be the best four years of your life!

At exactly this time three years ago, I was about to turn 18, had just been accepted to BU and was already planning my semester abroad in London. An application, a few semesters and a long plane ride later, here I am writing to you from foggy ol’ London Town. For those of you considering studying abroad, I have one piece of advice – do it. Just do it. Forget your reservations, pack your bags and get away for the semester. If you give it a decent shot, you won’t regret it.

For those of you who know you want to study abroad – or for those of you who might be getting ready to jet off – here are a few things I’ve learned about being a student in a foreign city.

It is OK to be American. Or Chinese. Or Italian. Or Tanzanian. Or whatever else you may be. One of the best ways to understand and appreciate your own culture is to remove yourself from it. After about a month in London, I realized that I was trying too hard to be British instead of fully embracing the experience of being an American in Britain. It is a wonderful thing to be immersed in another culture. I now know how to navigate the Tube and make a proper cup of tea. I’ve even adopted a few British phrases – “take away” instead of “to go.”  But I’ve also learned that enjoying another culture does not mean giving up your own. It is ok to ask questions, get lost and be disgusted by black pudding. Being aware of a stereotype is the first step in beating it, or at the very least having a laugh at it. In Barcelona, one café featured a “sandwich Americano.” It was a hotdog.

Learning is essential. You must not forget the study part of studying abroad! It is the reason people go abroad and the reason BU supports these programs. Fortunately, I use study in a liberal sense. Most of the learning one does while studying abroad does not happen in a classroom or from a textbook. While classes are important, learning opportunities come in various and often unexpected forms. I have learned all about the NHS and the history of British cinema. But I’ve also learned how to decipher between North England and South London accents and how to find the best hostel on a budget. I’ve learned that Keira Knightley got her start on a cop drama series and that Paul McCartney wrote “Let it Be” for his mother. I won’t say that school work is not an important part of the program, but don’t let it hold you back! As they say in England, “get on with it” and get out!

Traveling is both a blessing and a curse. I chose to study in London partly because of its location. Europe is at my disposal. My travel itinerary this semester includes Budapest, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin, Athens and various cities in Italy. It is pretty amazing to jet off to a new country almost every weekend. However, I would advise future abroad-ers to plan wisely. You can book trip after trip after trip and return home knowing very little about your host city. I have seven weeks left abroad, but only one weekend left in London. Studying abroad is a unique opportunity to call a foreign place home for a few months. It is learning the in and outs of London – the slang, the hidden treasures, the best grocery stores – that make the experience truly amazing. I know I will make time to travel throughout my life, but I will never have this opportunity again.

So as I said before, do it! Study abroad. You know you want to!

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