We caught up with Sarah, one of our alumni who participated in our study abroad program in London in 2013. Read on to learn more about her experience as an undergraduate in England’s capital city and how she has been impacted by her time overseas.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career (including your current job, if applicable)?
Educationally, study abroad impacted my goals in my pursuit of my second masters in Higher Education and Learning Organizations Leadership. When it came to writing a thesis, I chose International Admissions, my true passion, as my topic.
Professionally, study abroad impacted my goals because about a year and a half into my career in Admissions at my alma mater I was assigned international countries as part of my recruitment territory. My boss knew I had international experience from study abroad. That opened me up to so much more professional development, giving me a very niche skill within Admissions. I met new colleagues from other colleges to learn from since I was learning International Admissions completely on my own for my university. Not to mention very unique travel opportunities. 12 countries in 5 trips around the world over three Fall travel seasons.
How has your study abroad experience in London impacted other areas of your life?
I grew to become more well-rounded, independent, adaptable and open-minded. I developed planning and budgeting skills. I became more culturally and globally aware, increased my foreign language skills and my ability to communicate across different cultures. Through these new perspectives and unique experiences I learned so much about myself, personally. I learned how to take chances, enjoy the present and to never stop exploring. I was challenged daily and pushed out of my comfort zone to really embrace a new culture, traditions and way of life. I had a unique experience getting to know the UK culture from the British citizens I became close with.
Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad?
Yes, many times!
Less than a year after studying abroad, I returned to London during the winter break of my senior year of college. I was thrilled to be back in my study abroad city, in love with everything the city had to offer me during the holiday season.
The second time I returned to the UK, after graduating college, was to relocate. I lived outside of Cambridge for 6 months and traveled into London very often – mostly for social outings and exploring. The experience of relocating, even if for a short time, was challenging and taught me adaptation and taking risks in your life is so important.
The third time I returned, I was there to run the Royal Parks London Half Marathon. I ran a personal best time and my friend from high school, who I was staying with, was there to cheer me on! I also turned the trip into a business trip, as an International Admissions Counselor for a small, liberal arts college in NYC. I visited high school’s in London and the surrounding area. Being back in my favorite city on my terms, and as a young professional, was liberating and cathartic.
The fourth time that I returned to London was about a year after the half marathon, on another work/recruitment trip. There were a few days between the end of our recruitment tour and an international conference, so I took the train down to London for a few days. I explored new and familiar restaurants, sights and museums.
Each of these times was bittersweet, special and memorable in their own ways. London will always have a big part of my heart and memories.
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
I am still friends with many of my fellow AIFS Alumni on social media. I enjoy seeing their updates and how they are flourishing in their personal and professional lives. Four years after our experience, a few of us were living in NYC and met up at a British themed pub in Manhattan to catch up. I am also connected on social media with many UK natives.
Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?
At first, yes. I used new learned phrases as well as developed a liking for tea in the afternoon. It was all about the little things that reminded me of my life in the UK, when I returned. After I graduated college I celebrated a UK Christmas and a couple New Years’. That year, I even introduced Thanksgiving to the UK family I lived with, so it went both ways.
What are your top destinations for future travel?
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
Don’t second guess doing it, just do it. It’ll change your life. Then enjoy every second of it because it goes so fast. Make the most of everyday by exploring. Even when you’re tired, get out there in your city. Then travel to other countries and/or cities on the weekends too, if you can. Get to know the area like a local, embrace the culture, keep an open mind. And then hold on to the memories – however you choose to do it: keeping in touch with friends you made there, sharing your stories, creating scrapbooks or photo albums, or by returning to the city that you studied in… Don’t forget that very special time in your life – there are not as many opportunities to travel like that after college.
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
Share your experiences with those who will listen. Try to find others who have studied abroad or are returning also. There are feelings of reverse culture shock that they might understand, too. Keep in touch with those you studied abroad with and locals you befriended, it will ease the transition back to your normal routine. But as you return to your normal life, don’t forget who you grew to become and what you learned about yourself. Use what you learned and the culture you adapted to in your daily life.
Anything else you want to add?
Continue to be adventurous and travel. Life is too short not to explore this big world.