For my STEP signature project, I participated in the Global May Britain program. Not only was I able to fulfill a life-long childhood dream of mine to visit London, but I was able to fully immerse myself in the British culture through all the experienced I had during my trip. We lived in flats in London, utilized their underground transportation practically every day, visited many different stereotypical tourist attractions, visited many local spots, all while still taking classes and learning about the British history, culture, and politics! In all honesty, it’s extremely challenging to put into words just how life-changing this experience was, especially through just a summarization. As much as I would love to share every detail, I know that it would practically become a novel, so here’s my attempt with just the highlights…
Within just a few weeks, I experienced a substantial amount of personal, academic, and professional growth. Yet, it was not just one particular event that influenced this growth. Rather, it resulted from the culmination of my experiences throughout this trip – I stepped out of my comfort zone, had the opportunity to go on some excursion nearly every day, took a weekend trip to Scotland, and experienced everyday life as a Londoner, all while still taking classes! I became more outgoing, discovered a newfound love for nature and natural landscapes, fostered a desire to explore the U.S, became more aware of public health issues, and changed my future career goals. Most importantly, I became even more appreciative of my opportunities and experiences.
I noticed my personal growth almost immediately. As a New Jersey resident and out-of-state student with no family or high school friends in Ohio, I learned to be fairly independent during my first two years of college. Because of this, I assumed I could easily handle living alone in London. After all, I knew how to utilize the NYC subway system and fly planes on my own. For the most part, I was right. The Underground or “Tube” was very easy to utilize and become familiar with; going around London and even other parts the of the U.K was not very difficult. Living in the flat with easy access to a kitchen and bathroom (compared to dorm life) was not a difficult transition as well. My biggest personal challenge was actually stepping out of my comfort zone. As a very shy yet somewhat-extroverted individual, I often have trouble making friends and even though I enjoy the company of others. My shyness typically results in a struggle to open up to others and show my true personality. As such, I often remain quiet until I am fully comfortable with the people around me. I decided to defy this natural tendency; I realized that I would be living with 7 other flat mates and be with the same people every single day for four weeks. Within the first few days of the trip, I branched out and tried to meet as many people as I could. It was honestly extremely hard to do and it really forced me to step outside of “my bubble.” However, my efforts proved to be worth it as I surprised myself with making many new friends. In fact, I became very close with a group of several girls within the first week and I felt like I could be myself around them without worrying about being judged. What would have taken me months to do back on campus only took a few days during the trip, and I can honestly say that these new friendships may be life-long ones too.
With these new friends, I nurtured my personal growth even more. We had a tendency to further explore London beyond our daily excursions. We often found ourselves “accidentally” lost, which resulted in a plethora of adventures. It became such a habit that, after a certain point, we purposely went out of our way just to explore even more. During our first full weekend in the U.K, our class had an excursion to Edinburgh, Scotland. During this amazing weekend, we hiked on Arthur’s Seat. The view and experience altogether was absolutely breathtaking. It also led to our newfound love for nature and natural landscape. This revelation influenced our desire to explore green spaces throughout London for the remainder of our trip; we tried to visit as many parks as we could! After realizing there is much more to the U.K than the popular tourist spot of London, we spent our weekends visiting other places in the U.K such as Wimbledon, Brighton Beach, Stonehenge, Bath, and Stratford-Upon-Avon. A few girls and I went on a backpacking expedition in Italy and France for a few days after the trip, and we tried as best as we could to explore natural landscapes and non-tourist parts as part of our experience.
Though we had the weekends free to ourselves, we still had to attend classes during our time abroad. These classes were quite enjoyable actually, especially since they only took place on Mondays through Thursdays from 10AM-12PM. Our classes were typically accompanied by an afternoon excursion relating to the morning’s lesson and discussion. The pairing of our classes and excursions was the primary influence towards my academic growth during this trip. I was able to see the historical influence and prevalence of the U.K still prevalent in their culture. The majority of our excursions were museums or historical sites, and it was interesting to see how people still greatly acknowledge or even embrace the history of their country up to this day. This revelation was particularly prevalent during our visit to Edinburgh, Scotland; the majority of its structures and buildings were comprised of its original architecture. In a way, it also made me appreciate the U.S even more and fostered a curiosity with both American historical and cultural presence in various cities across our country. It made me desire to visit other parts of the U.S to explore historical landmarks and natural landscape, which I personally was not originally interested in.
Not only did I observe everyday life in Great Britain such as their architecture, fashion, and cuisine, but I also noted the behaviors of many British people. I was shocked to discovered how common smoking was – not just in Great Britain, but in Europe in general. Since I minor in public health, it was very overwhelming and disappointing to see the amount of smokers we encountered, especially since many of them were actually adolescents. Given the decrease in the amount of smokers in the U.S recently, it was a harsh realization that this is still a public health issue in other parts of the world.
The professional growth from this trip resulted from the combination of my personal and academic growth. I expected this experience to trip to satisfy my curiosity with London and the U.K. My month in the U.K was definitely culturally immersive, but I can easily say it left me craving for more. The trip actually altered my professional goals and future plans. Originally, I hoped to matriculate into medical school immediately after my undergraduate studies. After much consideration and even discussion with my parents, I have decided to apply for graduate school in the U.K probably for a year-long Master’s program in pharmacology or public health. I still want to go to medical school one day, but I also want to take a gap year and further immerse myself in the U.K while still furthering my education. There is still so much I want to see and experience in the U.K, and I personally cannot think of any better way to do this other than to study abroad again.
I can safely say, without a doubt, that my time abroad truly changed me for the better. I learned so much about myself in such a short amount of time. It only took those four weeks to notice a personal, academic, and professional development in myself that will now always be part of my identity. It was such a humbling experience and not a second passed by when I did not appreciate my blessings. I felt very thankful for all my opportunities and experiences with both my trip and my life back home. In fact, I actually cried out of happiness several times during this trip which was a surprise since I had never cried because of such reasons before. I have always been appreciative what I had, but this trip was a great reminder of the multitude and magnitude of my blessings in my life. I will forever hold my time abroad dear to my heart.