Struggling to zip up luggage. Running around to say goodbyes to friends and grandparents. Frantically picking up last-minute shifts at work to save as much money as possible. These are scenes that are all too familiar for those of us who have left home in pursuit of higher education, only I also had to schedule in a few final dips of queso, forkfuls of enchiladas swimming in sauce and savor every last spoonful of spicy chicken tortilla soup. Where I was headed, authentic Mexican food is hard to come by, probably because the ingredients and those who have come to master their preparation methods have had to cross half the United States and an ocean to make it to London, England, my current home.
Having grown up in El Paso, Texas, I was no stranger to acceptance and understanding when it came to interacting with people of different backgrounds. El Paso’s status as a major metropolitan city sitting on the border of the United States and Mexico uniquely places this desert city as one of the best places to prepare anyone for an international move. My heart was calling for a complete change in scenery: cue rainy, cloudy and significantly colder London, England.
The burning desire of outsiders to assimilate and feel accepted, mixed with the beautiful sounds, flavors and traditions of their backgrounds are stories told in multiple tongues across London. I find myself marveling at the number of accents I encounter during my commute in London, eavesdropping on the many different versions of Spanish that dance into my ears.
I made the decision to study abroad the first time when I found myself unhappy and in my fourth semester of my undergrad.
While the more traditional path is to start university at home and then move to a different city to complete your degree, I did the reverse and felt like an outsider for doing so. As happy as I was to be with the friends and family I had left behind and save money on my education, I wanted a real chance at the collegiate adventure my hard work in high school had promised. Before I knew it, I was on a 10-hour flight to London, exchanging majors, number of siblings and stories about what made us choose to study through AIFS.
One adventure followed another, with fleetingly short weekend trips across Europe and convenient daybreaks to quaint British cities.
London became my classroom as I toured its museums, galleries, theatres and made its libraries my second home.
My group of friends was a healthy size at 10 people from around the US and, four years later, I’ve reunited with all of them at least once, reminiscing on that amazing fall semester while also managing to pick up where we left off and sharing the good and bad we’ve experienced since we said our tearful goodbyes at the break of dawn in the lobby of Atlantic House.
Like many who study abroad, I went home and had to talk about my experience to anyone who would listen. Eager to return, I decided to take part in the AIFS internship program and was back in London less than two years later for the summer of 2015, doing marketing for mobile app start-up. This time, I made friends with my colleagues: British 20-somethings who were talented, inspiring and fun. Most importantly, this summer revealed two things:
- I never wanted to leave the UK.
- I enjoyed communications, but still wasn’t quite sure about what I wanted to do career-wise.
With only a fall semester before graduation, I knew I needed more than an English literature degree.
Among my colleagues was an American who was a couple short months away from completing her dissertation at an English university, looking to get a visa sponsorship from the company. She signed a contract and was granted a couple more years of living in the UK, which made me realize that a Master’s in London would be my next step to fulfilling my dreams of making a permanent move.
For the third time in three years, I was packing up my essentials and a thousand things I would never use into my hot pink luggage set, ready for the next adventure abroad. While nervous about the people in my program and attempting coursework after a nine-month break between graduation and grad school orientation, I was excited to be back in the posh neighborhood of Kensington at Richmond, the American International University in London. Richmond had been my home during my previous two semesters abroad and while familiarity and a chance to live in one of the best locations in the played into my decision, Richmond’s tuition was half that of any other university, plus the Master’s of Arts in Advertising and Public Relations was exactly the program I wanted. My class is divided right down the middle: half Americans and half Europeans. Funnily enough, two of the girls in my program also studied abroad at Richmond through AIFS and I had just missed each of them by one semester. Now, the fates got it right and I have two of my best friends on this journey with me.
It has been a year since my Master’s program began and I finally feel like a true Londoner.
I live in a strange, old house in an area that teeters between central location and suburbia with three American girls from my university and work full time at a magazine. I meet friends for a drink at the pub, have replaced ‘thanks’ with ‘cheers’ and ‘sweater’ with ‘jumper,’ and I talk about the weather way too much.
As of now, my visa expires in January and while I’m not sure where in the world I’ll be after Christmas (visas are hard to come by these days), I feel confident about my abilities to build a life for myself anywhere. I don’t think I could have succeeded living in a foreign country for nearly two years without two things: studying abroad through AIFS and being able to get actual work experience, and having grown up on the border, the literal manifestation of cultural blending. Who knew that traveling over 5,000 miles to hear strangers speaking Spanish would make me more homesick than a lack of real Mexican food?
This post was contributed by Sabrina Nunez, who studied and interned abroad with AIFS in London, England two separate times between 2013 and 2015.