Keeping the study abroad adventure going

Miriam studied abroad at Queen Mary University of London from Scripps College in the US for a full academic year, from September 2016 to June 2017. Currently working in France as a Language Assistant, Miriam is planning a return to the UK later on this year in order to pursue postgraduate studies in international education.
Have a read of Miriam’s first blogpost as an alumna of our Study Abroad programme and how her experience with us continues to influence and shape her life even today…

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m the person who always brings up their study abroad experience if asked about it. If you don’t know me, then I’ll tell you that yes, that’s me. I will take any opportunity to gush about my time abroad (probably to the annoyance of others), but that’s because it was such an important time in my life. I know, you might be thinking “sure, that’s what everyone says about study abroad,” and while that might be the case (and for good reason), that’s exactly what it was for me! When I boarded the plane to London, I was on my way to graduating with a degree in human biology, with a goal of working in genetic counseling. After studying abroad, however, I had different goals in mind: I wanted to explore the field of international education, and keep the adventure going.

When I started my undergraduate career, I already knew that I would be studying abroad. Pretty early on I had made the decision that I wanted to study abroad in the UK, and for the whole academic year, rather than the usual semester abroad, and I told the study abroad department at Scripps that as soon as I got the chance (what can I say, I like to be prepared). Once I started researching my options, I discovered Queen Mary University of London. It was, ironically, the one UK option offered by my university that would allow me to study abroad for a full academic year, while also allowing me to take classes in enough varied subjects to still be on track to graduate on time. I couldn’t have predicted that it being the only choice for me also made it the best choice for me, for more reasons than I could have known.

I’ve written a lot about my experience at QM, and in London (if you poke around on the blog I’m sure you’ll find some relics of mine), but even those aren’t enough to truly encapsulate what my time studying abroad meant to, and still means, to me. It’s hard to summarize nine months succinctly, or even to pick a handful of highlights when asked. That being said, I’m still going to give it my best shot. Without trying, study abroad changed my life goals, and sent me down a path for the future that wasn’t even in the rearview mirror when I left to start my adventure (it wasn’t even on the map at that time). I know that it’s cliché to say that studying abroad is “life changing,” but in this case, it actually was. I had never considered a career in study abroad advising before, but going abroad myself opened my eyes to that possibility. I always come back to my nine months studying abroad as the prime motivator for wanting to change my life goals, and even though it was a combination of multiple factors, they all originate in London.

I have many things to thank study abroad for, not least of them giving me the chance to live in and explore London for nine months. I was able to be an active member of the Queen Mary Theatre Company, frequent the West End enough times to warrant making a separate theatre scrapbook, and get to the point where I trusted myself to navigate the Tube without relying on CityMapper (this, I’m proud to admit, is something I can still do). I tried sticky toffee pudding for the first time, got hooked on PG Tips (sorry to the Tetleys or Yorkshire lovers out there), and even got to ring in the new year along the Thames. I went to two Graham Norton show tapings, devoured a decent number of scones with clotted cream (something I miss daily, especially the ones from the V&A), and of course, managed to take a photo with a red telephone booth (sometimes, you just have to give into temptation). All of these are memories I hold dear, and sometimes it’s hard to believe they’re all things I was able to experience.

About a month or so into my time in London, I got an email from the Global Opportunities Office, asking if any Associate students would be interested in taking over their Instagram account for a day. I still don’t really know what compelled me to reply, but deciding to do so was obviously one of those “you don’t know how meaningful that’s going to be” moments for me. A week or so later, I was sitting in the Queens’ Building discussing how I could contribute when the idea of blogging for the Global Opportunities blog came up. I decided why not, and set to work writing my first piece. It ended up being something I really enjoyed, and in fact, is something I still enjoy. The year after I graduated from Scripps, I went to France to teach English and started my own blog. I’m not prolific or by any means popular, but it’s fun to write about my travels and experiences, and that’s something I wouldn’t have even thought to try without that email from the Global Opportunities Office.

Getting into blogging isn’t all that my time studying abroad introduced me to, though. Through writing my blog posts, I realized that I liked sharing my experience of studying abroad, but in more than just a superficial way, and that I wanted to use that joy to help others. Doing things with the Global Opportunities Office allowed me to discover the other side of the study abroad experience: the people who help make it happen. Obviously I knew there were study abroad advisors from the advisors at my home institution before I left, but it would have never crossed my mind as something for me until I was actually abroad myself. When I went back to the US, I become a Global Ambassador for IFSA-Butler, and an alumni ambassador for Queen Mary. In both of those roles, I got to talk to prospective study abroad students, and it made me realize that the enjoyment I had felt while in London wasn’t a passing phase. It started to become less of something that I was just doing for fun, and more of something that I could see myself doing in the future. It became clear that I wanted to help future students study abroad and that a path in international education was one I wanted to explore.

I graduated from Scripps and went to work as a Language Assistant in France for a year. Since studying abroad, I’ve been lucky enough to return to London a couple of times, and each visit I am reminded of the time I spent abroad there. It feels like a warm hug (and I’m not just talking about taking the central line during the summer). I’m currently back in France, but my career goals now involve working in international education to hopefully help future students study abroad and have as memorable an experience as I was lucky to have. I’m not entirely sure what that path is going to hold, and obviously the current pandemic has thrown a decently sized wrench into the equation, but I know it’s something about which I’m passionate. I have my study abroad experience to thank entirely for that. When I say that studying abroad was “life changing,” I say it because it introduced me to a passion that I wouldn’t have unlocked without going abroad. I’m excited to see where the field will take me, and I hope that one day I’ll be able to provide other students with life changing study abroad experiences, however that might look for them.

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