STEP Experience: London and Paris

I just got back from one of the best experiences of my life, a study abroad trip to London and Paris. I, and twenty-five other students went around both cities learning about the history and culture around us. Apart from going to many of the tourist hot spots like the London Eye and the Eiffel Tower, we walked around the city with a tour guide each day who told us what we were looking at and the importance of it. In London we saw Buckingham Palace and the Globe Theatre, but we also went to areas like Brixton and Brick Lane, which have significant cultural differences from the rest of London. We even traveled to Dover castle and Stonehenge and saw some of the rural side of England.
Paris was very similar to London in terms of what we did. Of course we toured the catacombs and the Louvre, but we looked at the Rue de la Goutte d’Or, which is home to many North African and sub-Saharan residents. We traveled to the city of Versailles to see the Palace and to numerous castles around the city to look at the rural life and also the legacies of the royalty from the era. Our free days in each city were spent going to museums we did not have time to see, looking at all of the artwork and sculptures we would only see in books.
It was amazing going on this study abroad trip. I had never been out of the country so I did not have any actual experience to base my expectations off of. The feel of London was extremely similar to that of New York City. The language is basically the same as here in the States so there was really no culture shock. I really loved the city and while the design of the streets was infuriating sometimes, it still gave it the feel like you were back hundreds of years ago before the Great Fire. It was also really great to see all of the architecture in London. Some of the Cathedrals and city buildings are hundreds of years old, which is such a change from the States where nothing seems to be older than a hundred years old. It was really interesting to see Brick Lane and Brixton and compare them to the impoverished areas around Columbus. While in Brixton a few locals came up to the group and seemed to take offense to us being there. We discussed the possibility of this happening but being over there I felt bad that they thought we were just there to gawk at them and look down on them.
Doing service in London was a great experience and my only complaints are that I wish we would have had more time to spend with the people we were serving and I wish it had been longer. We were only there for a few hours and I am not sure that is enough to make much of a difference. My main regret about the entire experience is that I did not spend enough time talking with the locals. I feel like I missed out on a lot of the experience by not speaking with them and learning about the city through their eyes.
Paris was quite a bit different in terms of the culture. Most people I encountered did not speak English that well, the city seemed dirty, and it seemed like everyone was in a hurry. Within the first hour there, a group of us were almost run over multiple times. The city was much prettier than London but I think I liked the feel of London just a bit more, perhaps because it felt so similar to home. Overall, I think I behaved in line with most other locals so as not to stand out and I don’t think I offended anyone while abroad. I think if anything would have happened, I would be able to explain my side and make amends.
I learned from my Buck-I-Serv trip to New York that service could help me expand my network of friends. As a business major, most of my friends and the people I hang out with on a daily basis are business majors. I was one of two business majors on my service trip of twenty. There were engineering majors, English majors, and even human sexuality majors. I would probably never have met any of these people had it not been for that trip. I became very good friends with many of them and we still hang out to this day. Service brings all groups together. No service group attracts one major more than another so it is a great way to meet people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet. The same thing happened with this study abroad trip. Out of the twenty-six students in the class, only myself and another student are accounting majors and only a couple more are business majors. I love getting to meet everyone that has a completely different passion and skill-set than me. I think it really helps me grow as a person and as a thinker. I don’t typically approach problem solving the same way an art student does because our brains work in very different ways but this allows me to learn from those that are different.
I think this trip will even help me in my future career beyond the thinking and service. One of my dreams is to live and work abroad. I have always thought about living in cities like London or Paris but never fully considered it. In the accounting field, there are four major audit firms known as the Big 4. Many have offices in London with some of the most prestigious offices being there. I would very much like to start my career in one of the London offices because I love the idea of living in one of most exciting cities in the world. This trip, along with its numerous other benefits, allowed me to experience living in two major cities for a few days to see how I would like it. It is a small perk but one that could be very important to the rest of my life. This study abroad trip pushed me to do things I had never done before, in places I had never been before, with people I had never met before. It pushed me completely out of my comfort zone, which I believe is what allows people to truly learn from an experience