Coming Up With Great Expectations in London


Set yourself up for the best time abroad by remembering to be patient, explore your city and do things alone. (Courtesy of Instagram)

A few weeks ago, when I was catching up with my mom over the phone, she asked whether my study abroad experience has been what I was expecting it to be so far. When she asked me this, I had to pause and take a moment to reflect on what I actually was expecting from this experience. With all the hustle and bustle of trying to cram so much into such a short period of time, I hadn’t actually stopped to think about whether my lived experiences equated to my expectations. 

The real answer is no. I did not know what to expect from this program. I didn’t know whether the classes were going to be difficult to juggle with traveling, I didn’t know how hard or easy it would be to meet other people, I didn’t even plan any trips before I came over. In retrospect, I think my lack of expectations came from the feelings of uncertainty that have shrouded the last two years. After experiencing the pandemic, I went into study abroad hoping for the best, but not knowing what to expect that to look like. 

I can’t say whether or not studying abroad has lived up to or exceeded my expectations, but I can say it has been an enriching, fun and worthwhile experience. But for those who are getting ready, and excited, to begin their study abroad experience in the spring, I’ve collected some advice to help give a better picture of what to expect from the experience. 

First, pack your patience. At the start of the semester, my mom, some family friends and I rang in the start of my semester abroad by traveling to Ireland. My mom and I flew into London to deposit my things before turning around and flying out to Dublin. After trudging through the never-ending security line, we finally made it to the gate. The same could not be said, however, for the crew and that flight was canceled. Cue a montage of the next 12 hours spent in Heathrow Terminal Two while we waited for our rebooked flight out that night. 

Now, I don’t tell you this story to complain. I actually find it to be a funny memory now that I’ve escaped The Queen’s Terminal. I only tell this story as an example of why making sure you have your patience tucked into your carry-on is a good idea. Maybe along with a good book. 

Make time to explore the city you choose to live in for the semester. A few weeks ago, it was the weekend before midterms, and I had no travel outside of London scheduled. I had been traveling around for the past three weeks before that and I wanted to leave that weekend open in case I needed to, you know, study (don’t worry mom, there is lots of studying happening over here). I decided to instead have a staycation in London. I went to the British Film Festival screening of the brilliant and masterful new movie “She Said,” I went to an afternoon tea service, took in the views from the London Eye and visited the Churchill War Rooms to absorb some of the city’s history. 

There will be this immense pressure to travel to as many new places as possible within the relatively short span of about 16 weeks. My advice is to make a bucketlist of things and places you absolutely must do and see before the end of those 16 weeks. Don’t just limit the list to places outside of your base city, include things you absolutely want to do in the city you choose to live in. So far on mine for London, I’ve crossed off eating fish and chips, going to the Portobello Road Market, seeing a West End show and going to see a show at The Globe. 

Finally, and this might be the most important one and the one I have been pushing myself to do more lately, start getting comfortable doing things by yourself. That weekend I spent in London, the rest of my friends jetted off to a new place. This forced me to get comfortable doing things by myself. I went to the movies by myself, ate at a pub by myself and traveled all around the city on my own. And you know what? It wasn’t nearly as scary or uncomfortable as I thought it would be. It has actually been very beneficial as I’m using these solo outings into the city as a trial for when I take my solo trips in November. 

I think coming into study abroad without any expectations was a benefit as I could never have thought up the experience I have had. I have met so many wonderful people and seen so many beautiful places that far exceed the bounds of even my imagination.