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Top 10 things I learned from a summer abroad

Revelations from studying abroad in London this July

I participated in U.Va. in London’s month-long program called the “Culture of London: Past and Present.” and it was a month full of lively discussions, thrilling experiences and time spent with amazing friends and professors.
I participated in U.Va. in London’s month-long program called the “Culture of London: Past and Present.” and it was a month full of lively discussions, thrilling experiences and time spent with amazing friends and professors.

This summer I spent a month in London, and I learned a lot about the city, literature and theater, but, the most valuable takeaway was a newfound confidence in myself to be adaptable and have fun in new — and sometimes stressful — situations.  

  1. Regent’s Park closes at 9 p.m.! 

After being locked inside of The Regent’s Park on my first night in London — a long and slightly convoluted story — I cannot emphasize enough the importance of checking the closing hours for public parks. It is humiliating to be rescued from inside the park surrounding the university you are staying at on your first night there. Picture it — jet-lagged and a bit homesick stranded in a dark park because its closing hours were unbeknownst to me. This is a situation I do not wish upon anyone. 

  1. Air conditioning is a precious commodity

While my revelation about the value of air conditioning is not a unique one, it feels necessary to mention as someone who loves to sleep with both a fan and my AC on an ice-cold temperature. Most places in London — my dorm room included — were not air conditioned. Thankfully, the July temperatures in London were very mild, but I still missed cranking the AC when I got back after a long day of walking and sightseeing. I did learn, however, that I can sleep for a whole month with the window open instead of using a fan, and it was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. 

  1. A healthier work-life balance is possible 

Sometimes I struggle with cultivating a healthy work-life balance during the academic year. There are often instances where I prefer to say no to something with my friends in favor of getting ahead on my assignments and readings. Granted, I was only taking one class during my month abroad, but I was still able to have a remarkably healthier relationship with my school work. I found ways to utilize spare moments during our lunch break or while on a train ride to get work done, allowing me to be fully present in exploring and enjoying London with my classmates. It was refreshing to not leave the fun for the weekends only. 

  1. I would like to eat an almond croissant for breakfast every morning for the rest of my life

I found myself gravitating towards almond croissants in every cafe and bakery in London — my favorite was at Fabrique in Notting Hill.  Perhaps they are generally more abundant in the U.K., but I know for sure that I love them. The creamy inside coupled with the powdered sugar on top with the sliced almonds is my definition of perfection — especially when an oat milk latte is involved. Now back in Charlottesville, I am on a journey to find an almond croissant similar to my favorite one in London. 

  1. Give the over-packers a break 

I get it, packing light makes travel much easier. Nevertheless, I am tired of the light packers of the world consistently being praised while the overpackers are made to believe that they are the ones who need to change. As a chronic overpacker myself — my checked bag was certainly over the weight-limit — I am here to say that I learned that it is okay to “overpack.” 

Having easy access to things like my umbrella and my favorite face moisturizer without having to make a stop at a store was phenomenal. When did preparedness become such a bad thing? 

  1. I want to be buried in London’s endless bookstores 

Daunt Books, Hatchard’s and Waterstones are just a few of the magnificent bookstores I enjoyed perusing in London. The multi-level bookstores filled with endless shelves filled my bibliophile heart with so much joy. I especially enjoyed looking at the different UK covers of some of my favorite books like “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” which added to the fun. After spending a month in London, Barnes & Noble simply cannot compare. 

  1. Spontaneity does not need to be chaotic 

Similarly to my takeaway about improving my work-life balance, I learned that spontaneity does not need to be a stressful experience. As someone who likes a schedule and is hesitant to change my plan unexpectedly, I worked on stepping outside of my comfort zone while studying abroad, which yielded the most amazing results. Adopting a more go-with-the-flow attitude allowed me to enjoy the surprises of spontaneity — like a fabulous weekend trip to Capri with my roommate that we booked only a few days in advance. 

  1. I love going to the theatre

Discovering my newfound love for the theatre is the personal discovery that I value most from my month in London. Not only was going to the theatre something that was central to my course, but it became something that I did for fun with classmates. The accessibility and affordability of going to the theatre was mind-blowing for me. “Phantom of the Opera” at His Majesty’s Theatre and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at The Globe Theatre were two of the highlights of my theatre-going experience. I hope to continue engaging with the performing arts back here in Charlottesville.  

  1. Google Maps is confusing and far from user-friendly 

I have always relied on Google Maps for navigation, especially in a new place. Deciding on what was the best navigation tool became a big topic of conversation — specifically a debate between Google Maps users and Apple Maps devotees. My conclusion is that neither one is good and instead an app called Citymapper is the way to go instead. With detailed information, like which is the best exit to use at a particular tube stop, I am forever indebted to being introduced to this app. 

  1. There are so many lovely people — from the University and beyond — that I have yet to meet  

After two years at the University, it can feel easy to think that everyone has already found their friends. The friendships I made while studying abroad attest to the fact that there are so many amazing people out there that you have not crossed paths with yet. Speaking from experience, I decided to go on this program without really knowing anybody, and I emerged on the other side of it with over 20 new friends that I cannot wait to see around Grounds this semester. Thanks to the Culture of London program, I have lots of love for all of my fellow college students-turned-Londoners. 


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