First off, though I’m writing a “Farewell Journal”; I refuse to acknowledge that I’ve almost finished my semester abroad. If I pretend that I’m not flying back to the U.S. in a couple weeks, then I’ll just get to stay here, right?
On a more serious note, it’s been interesting to note how aware I’ve been of my departure date throughout my time in London. As soon as I moved into my flat and met my flatmates, I realized how short one semester really is and how much I would miss this environment once I headed home. With that date in mind, it’s been difficult trying to determine how and if I’ve been taking advantage of my semester abroad. The problem is that the U.S. paints a picture of what it means to study abroad, which is perpetuated by books, the media, and movies. You learn about a new culture, have a blast traveling, touring the sights, making international friends, and then come home. It’s been hardto reassure myself that this is not *the* study abroad experience, but simply one study abroad experience among many.
I came to my semester abroad with different goals in mind than most. I’m not just here for the culture, but also for the classes. The modules I’m taking here aren’t offered in any form at my home college, and they are directly related to my Engineering, Physics, and Design degree.
Studying abroad meant the unique opportunity to learn about Interaction Design. Thus, I’ve put a lot of work into my studies, much more than many other study abroad students. Everyone here seems to want to do classwork, but also not work too hard, so as to take advantage of opportunities. I, on the other hand, have gone pretty crazy with some of my projects, doing way more than what was required. Some people thought I was insane to put extra unnecessary time into my studies instead of using that to explore more of the community. But Queen Mary has provided a safe academic bubble free from the stereotypes and intense expectations of Harvey Mudd College. I’m not expected to take eight modules and work 24/7 here. I am allowed to be myself and pursue my interests. This change of environment has allowed me to overcome some barriers that I placed on myself back home. The other students at Harvey Mudd are so intelligent that I was too scared to try and figure out electrical engineering concepts on my own. Here I have the space and time to actually work through my fear of electrical engineering, and I’ve come a long way from where I started in September.
It’s been hard to admit this to myself, but I’m not studying abroad so I can travel. Yes, it’s a convenient time in my life to do so, but I’d rather try to assimilate into the London culture, instead of inundating myself with so many others. I want to be a Londoner, make friends with my classmates, and dedicate my time to these endeavors rather than exploring yet another city for two days, where I’ll get no glimpse into the country’s culture, but merely see the shallow tourist layer.
What I’m saying is, I’ve had to convince myself that my decision to travel less frequently than others and put extra time into my coursework is okay. This is *my* study abroad experience.
I’m going to find it hard to adjust to California after living here. Living here has felt like opening a new chapter in my life, and even in just a few months, I have seen how much it has changed me as a person. I feel so much more independent. I know how to make my own travel plans to other cities. I’ve discovered how to get by in a non-English speaking country without feeling awkward about my inability to speak the language. I am approaching new environments and daily challenges with less stress and anxiety than before. I’m becoming more versatile, stronger and able to take on life’s challenges, and I am ready to actually find those challenges.
You and I have spent almost all our lives in school, where we are guided by teachers and know exactly where we’ll be the next year: one grade older. Then in college we’re given a bit more responsibility. We have to choose our own major, be more responsible for our education, and in fact, we could have decided to not go to college at all. College acts as a stepping stone to entering the “adult world”, or starting your career. But there’s still a huge leap between graduating with a Bachelor’s and trying to figure out how renting an apartment works, or doing income taxes on a legitimate paycheck for the first time.
Our identity is not suited to this large transition. We’re so used to school that it’s overwhelming trying to figure out who we are as adults when the training wheels of the academic system are lifted. Study abroad has helped me with this.
I’m still going to slip and fall as I get my first job and move into my own apartment, but being abroad this semester has helped me feel more like my own person. I am more confident in who I am, and I’m not afraid to grow into this new life.
Study abroad is so much more than the flashy photos and trips; it’s mainly an introspective journey into who you are as a person, stripping away context like your family, hometown, nationality, language, education, to answer the question “who are *you*?” As you continue your studies in school, leave opportunities for you to push yourself into unfamiliar territory and grow as a person. If your friend invites you to go rock climbing and you’ve never been, try it out! And of course I highly recommend college and studying abroad. Both have helped me better figure out who I am as a person, increase my intellect, and ease me into “adult” life.
So with that, farewell. And maybe I’ll luck out and get a job in London. ; )