These are a few of the hardest things about studying abroad – by Miriam Frances Jaffe

As wonderful and amazing as my study abroad experience has been, it’s not all been peaches and cream. Adjusting to a new city, new people, and a new system of education have been some of the largest hurdles over which I have had to jump since I first arrived in September, and to be honest, I’m still struggling with some of them.

The hardest ongoing thing for me is the academic system in the UK. I have a lot to say about this so brace yourselves. The biggest problem I have with this system is that I struggle to feel motivated to work throughout the semester. Unlike in the US, there are no midterms and unless there are assignments due throughout the semester, there’s little forcing you to actually study. Unfortunately, there is also very little way to gauge your comprehension of the content (I never thought I would appreciate midterms until now – who knew?). With no due dates for several months, it’s easy to forget that exams are looming in the (not so) distant future, and whenever I think about those exams, my heart pressure increases exponentially. I once heard someone compare the British system of exams to a “pressure cooker” and I cannot think of a more apt analogy. I personally feel that this is not a good way to ensure academic success. Moreover, depending on the department, the professors seem to be less invested in students’ success than back in the states. Granted, I go to a smaller school back home, and Queen Mary is much larger than Scripps College, but I still feel that sometimes I’m merely a small face in a lecture theatre or classroom.

I came to Queen Mary knowing that the end of my spring semester would consist of seven exams but as that day gets closer, I find myself becoming more and more concerned with how well I’m going to fare. I imagine this is a daunting prospect to any student, but as an American student who has never had to take finals months after taking the course, I can safely say that I’m dreading the month of May. I’m sure that come the time for studying, I will probably label that as the hardest thing from my entire year abroad but for my sanity at the moment, I’m going to pretend they don’t exist.

Something that does, however, exist in abundance is new people everywhere. I have always been excited about studying abroad, but one of my biggest worries before my plane even landed was: would I be able to make friends? As much as I felt I needed a break from the constant sun of Southern California (and London has delivered on that score), I was terrified of leaving all the friends I have there. Would they forget me? Even worse, would I spend all year here trying to live through their endless Snapchats and Facebook posts? I’m very happy to say that my friends from home are still my best mates, and even with 5,418 miles between us, I feel like I’m involved in their lives (thanks for keeping me in the loop, guys)! I’m still trying to navigate the idea of new friendships across the pond, but over the past several months, I have met some truly wonderful people.

I’ve never been the best person at making friends, and inserting yourself into both a new university, and a new social environment is scary. It’s hard to slot yourself into a community that already has a system – a campus that I call mine for the year, but not a campus that will award me my degree. Unlike in the US, there aren’t really any events forcing you to get to know your fellow students, so if you’re a shy person like me, meeting new people can be tricky. Walking into classes the first week, it was painfully clear to me that most people knew each other already, and had already formed partnerships for group work. I’m still grappling with this issue, and some classes have proved to be easier to slot into than others. That being said though, I’ve met some wonderful people through class, societies (shout out to QMTC), and through other various events. Personally, I would rather have a handful of meaningful friends than a mass of acquaintances, but as London is such a giant city, there are so many opportunities to meet new people all the time.

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Queen Mary Theatre Company

Lastly, adjusting to a new city was a big stepping-stone for me. Scripps is very much located in a bubble, college town and as much as I love being away from a large city, I definitely occasionally miss being able to get somewhere new easily. From Queen Mary, all of London is basically on your doorstep and I can safely say that after some brief confusion of how to get anywhere, I now feel like an (semi) expert in navigating my way around this city. London can be overwhelming upon arrival, but really, I feel like it’s much smaller than it seems. It’s hard to remember that the whole city is open to you at any given moment and that within an hour, I could be exploring museums, seeing a show, or walking through a market. Sometimes, I honestly forget I’m in London, and it’s a pleasant surprise when I remember!

Now, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer so I will reaffirm that I have been having the time of my life studying abroad. I think if my experience so far had been incredibly smooth sailing, I would have had a little bit of a hard time believing I was doing it right. I know that come the time to leave, I will be heartbroken and I’m almost 100% positive that I will quickly return. For every negative, there is a positive, and luckily, I’ve found that the positives have outnumbered the negatives since I arrived back in September. Even having to put up with (soul crunching) exams will be worth it because I feel like London is where I’m meant to be and coming here has definitely been one of the best decisions of my (fairly short) life so far.

Read more by Miriam


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