Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Living La Vida London: A Reflection

I've been going over the details of my adventure abroad this past summer in my head so many times that it has become somewhat difficult to describe what I learned there. I met so many people that changed me and did so many things that I have a difficult time summing up my experience when anybody asks how it was over there. But I have to try, and I've been putting this entry off for so long that it might be a hard to cover everything in this one post. I will try, though.

I had planned on studying in England since I was seventeen years old; this was when I took my very first trip over to the United Kingdom with my mom back in 2010 for my senior trip. It’s no secret that I was having a bit of a rough time in school as far as my social life went, so this trip was both fulfilling a dream for me as well as giving me an escape from my less than stellar last year in high school. It was that trip that made me fall in love with England and ever since that time I wanted to go back and study there. Oxford for a semester or so was the original plan, but I wanted to get there any way I could.

Fast forward to the fall semester of 2012 when I was entering my third year of college and felt like I was drifting from place to place without any set plans for my future. Fall of 2012 was also my first year at Southern Utah University. Since my freshman year of college, I had attended Snow College in Ephraim, Utah and Collin College in Plano, Texas. Unfortunately for me, my freshman year of college brought to light some issues that I needed to sort out before I decided to dive back in to living away from home, so I spent my sophomore year of college back in my home state of Texas with my family. This Southern Utah University “thing” was my second shot at living on my own again, so I was a bit nervous.

As a transfer student, I was required to go to the freshman orientation programs so that I could better acclimate myself to the school. It was during this orientation that I was presented with a new graduation requirement called the “EDGE Program”. Basically, each student is required to complete a project of their choice outside of the classroom to better themselves and the world around them in some way. The expected outcome is that each SUU student will be able to learn something that could not be taught in a classroom and grow as an individual. It also looks really good on graduate school applications.
Being the sort of person who gets right on assignments, I started thinking about what I could do to complete this new requirement so that I could graduate before my youngest brother graduates from high school in 2016. I then realized that the answer was right in front of my face: I needed to study in England, just as I had always planned. I suppose I entertained the notion of studying for an entire semester abroad, but I ultimately decided that the summer was a better time frame for me. It was a way for me to ease in to the feeling and idea of living in another country.

My next step was to figure out if I was going to study abroad through SUU or another program, and I ultimately decided to go with the American Institute for Foreign Study, or AIFS. AIFS is an SUU accredited program, so the credits I took abroad would easily transfer to SUU. I then had to go through the process of applying, getting accepted, and then getting through various tedious, but very necessary, paperwork in order to obtain permission from Richmond University in London to study on their Kensington campus. After all that was done with, I got permission to live and study in the city of London for twenty-three days.

The day arrived for me to fly alone to London, and I was terrified. I actually wanted to stay home with my family instead of take a class in a foreign country where I didn't know anybody. Judging by my track record for making friends, I didn't feel like my prospects were very good as far as making connections with other human beings went. But I went. I got on that airplane, by myself, and flew all the way to Heathrow International Airport, by myself. The first day there was a giant haze of people moving all around me and tears falling from my eyes because I realized just how alone I really was. I realized that I could very well be alone like that for almost an entire month, and I did not like that idea. Suddenly I missed everything I ever hated about America and just wanted to be home with familiar people and places. I didn't want to be in this strange place with all these strange people.

I can’t quite recall when it all got better, but it did get better very quickly. I believe things improved drastically when I was invited by some people to go to Westminster Abbey and then also to just walk around London after the tour. This is when I talked to people. I think speaking to people becomes so much easier when taking walks- sitting down with someone and speaking face to face is horribly awkward as far as first interactions go.

From that point on, I did more things with people and actually made friends! I would like to pull back here for a moment and point out that I still have a difficult time speaking with people, so that fact that I was able to make lasting connections with other humans while I was in a completely uncomfortable and unfamiliar place is amazing for me. I am still in awe of myself for doing as well socially as I did while in London.
At this point I would like to point out everything that was awesome about my adventures abroad, but I think that my past blog entries are much more accurate and detailed than anything I could possibly write in this entry. I would like to say a few words, though. This will have to be alright because you are, after all, reading my blog.

I would like to say thank you to the girls who took me under their wing that day and invited me to do something with them. I don’t think any of you will ever understand how much that meant to me and how much that still touches me. I’m not a very sappy person, but I wanted to say that your actions made me so incredibly happy and gave me so much comfort. I felt very lonely and scared before all of you came along. Our paths will probably cross soon enough, I’m sort of counting on that.

To my incredible teacher, Jon Mackley: I don’t even know where to begin. To say that you have become someone that I look up to is very much an understatement. We spent three hours a day, five days a week for three weeks in the same classroom, but that never felt like enough time to really learn all you had to teach me. You are one of the nerdiest people I have ever had the pleasure of learning from, and I felt that I had found I kindred nerdy spirit in you. I do hope that we will see each other again. (I would also like every person reading this to go check out his books, Crossing the Threshold and Heaven’s Devils on Amazon…)

To the cities of London and Paris: I don’t know what to say, really. I will be back to explore your streets again. You both have shown me how “grown up” I can be. I speak mostly of your public transportation systems- I come from a place that doesn't have underground or above ground trains or what seems like hundreds of buses, so those things really tested my patience and sometimes brain power.
I should probably also thank AIFS for allowing me to utilize their program for living abroad for a while, and SUU for getting me moving on an actual plan for studying in England.

This feels too much like an acceptance speech, but I think I needed to thank all those people, places, and organizations because they were all part of the overall experience I had across the pond. I also think that I avoided writing this final post for so long because I didn't want it to be over. I know I've been back in the U.S. for a little over two months now, but I am getting these aches to go back. Well, the aches now feel more like Ireland and less like England, but I would still be going across the Atlantic Ocean.
When all is said and done, I’m glad that I did what I did in England and that SUU pushes its students to “Experience More” as their slogan goes. I am now in my second year here and I think a huge part of that has to do with me growing up a little bit during my adventures in England. I now know I’m capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for, even though I don’t act like it.

My hope through all of this is to not convince others to study abroad because I did, but to study abroad because it will help them grow academically and as a person. Yes, it costs a pretty penny for certain programs, and yes, you will be away from everyone and everything you love. That’s the point, though: you are not always going to be in situations that make you comfortable because life isn't always comfortable. London smacked me around pretty well, and I’m glad it did because now I know that I could live in a place like London and be alright. I know I can do hard things and come out pretty close to on top. If you are considering studying abroad, do it. Don’t look back while you’re doing it because the view from wherever you go is probably a lot better than the view from your easy chair in your house.

Please, for your sake, just go out and do it.