StudyAbroad.com's own, Kim Lessig, shares what she loved about studying in London
By Kim Lessig, edited by Valeri Boyle
Published June 26, 2014
Working for StudyAbroad.com for the past ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with some amazing study abroad providers across the world. But despite that, probably no destination will ever find a warmer place in my heart than London – the city that started it all for me.
My junior year in college I took that first step of faith, or leap perhaps, and left my small-town Pennsylvania alma mater, Grove City College, to live in one of the world’s most fascinating cities. I enrolled directly in a program with King’s College London, studying English literature amidst the streets and settings from which it was born. From TheCanterbury Tales to Essay on Man, I immersed myself.
While I’d like to think everyone would adore the city based on literature alone, let me share seven other reasons I loved studying in London:
- Encountering a broader universe of people and opinions. London’s diverse population was my first real encounter outside ‘the bubble’ as people affectionately called my school back home. Hanging out in a friend’s flat (apartment) early in the term, I recall starting a conversation with one of his flatmates and being challenged on my position on US government policy (think fall of 2001). I was in classes with few Americans, some Brits and many international students from Europe and beyond, a trend which has continued growing. The UK as a whole hosted more than 420,000 international students in 2012 and London’s a hub of many of them. [i]
- Re-learning the language you thought you knew. Much has been said about ‘two countries divided by the same language,’ but for me, it pretty much came down to the moment when I spilled coffee in my lap. “Oh no, I’ve stained my pants,” was met by a new friend with a look of shock followed by uproarious laughter. Apparently pants = underwear and I should have gone with ‘trousers’ instead. He reassured me he’d spent the previous semester in Maryland and had an even more embarrassing faux pas when asking his neighbor for a rubber in the middle of class (expecting to receive an eraser).
- Experiencing different approaches. Because I enrolled directly, I had the opportunity to experience the UK education system. Classes combined lectures and smaller group ‘tutoring’ sessions with the professors. There were none of the accustomed tests or assignments; rather the entire grade was riding on a final paper. I also gained new insights from many of the ‘freshers’ (freshman) I met at my dorm who would explain to me how they all had to take A-levels to qualify for their courses of study, which are subject focused from the start, allowing them to finish a degree in three years rather than four.
- Going to the theatre. Whether you’re looking for the most popular musicals or an edgy new drama, London’s theatre scene is amazing. Getting off class early one afternoon, a friend and I were able to pick up cheap, last minute tickets to Les Misérables at the very front of the theatre. I could literally see the spit as Jean Valjean laments his shame at the start of the production, and I was in heaven.
- Living in London. This may seem like defining a word using the word, but I can’t say enough about the city itself. Given the attention span of the average reader online, I’m not going to try to fit a tour guide into one paragraph. As a book addict, my favorite thing to do on a Saturday was wander in and out of the bookstores littering Charing Cross Road. With friends, I’d sit at a local pub half the night or hop on the Tube (subway) and find a salsa club. My school was within a short walk of Covent Garden, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and so many more iconic and beautiful places. Studying abroad was that perfect gateway that allowed me to experience London’s grand history and its present day reality.
- Leaving London. I quickly found that Europe, and London in particular, have a myriad of options available for the budget traveler. From the extensive train network to the cheap flights, I was able to visit places throughout the UK and Europe. I took a whirlwind bus tour through Europe on my break – Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France – and my love of international travel blossomed even further.
- Riding the buses. Who doesn’t love a double-decker red bus weaving in and out of winding, narrow streets? If you raised your hand, you may not love London as much as I did. Definitely one of my favorite ways to explore the city was to ride the different bus lines and see where I’d end up. The guide London A-Z (pronounced ‘zed’) is a must when you decide to get off!
My only regret with the semester abroad was that I hadn’t committed to spending the full year there. Regardless of where studying abroad may take you, I hope you will embrace that leap. For me, it was the start of a rich and rewarding journey that has influenced not only my education, but also my career, my worldview and my life.
Kim Lessig is the Director of Graduate and International Products at EducationDyanamics, the parent company of StudyAbroad.com. She studied English literature at King's College London in London, England.
Not that you really need an excuse to fly to a far-off country in order to gain a world-class education as a super-cultured international student, but here’s our list of 25 reasons to study abroad just in case you’re not yet convinced.
And for those of you who have already studied abroad, let us know in the comments if you can think of any more good reasons to study abroad and whether you agree with the list so far!
1. It’ll look good on your CV
If you can explore a new country at the same time as picking up the international skills to gain a decent graduate job, then that’s pretty good going.
2. Brush up on your language skills
Remember the foreign language skills you picked up in school? No, me neither. Refresh them by studying abroad; you might be surprised at how much you remember.
3. Living in a foreign country is completely different to a holiday
You’ll actually get to experience your place of study in the long term, picking up local knowledge such as where sells the best coffee, what tourist traps to avoid and how to get the most out of your new city.
4. Meet a diverse range of people
Your exposure to many different types of people will not only help you to develop your people skills, but it will also give you a firmer knowledge of others, both friend and foe.
5. Make lifelong friends
You may not love every single person you meet, but chances are that you’ll meet at least one lifelong friend (if you’re good at keeping in touch, that is).
6. Discover new and exciting foods
Get more paella /poutine /pierogi /schnitzel /shawarma /chimichanga /katsudon /bobotie /baklava (delete as appropriate) in your life.
7. Study and learn differently
Often those studying abroad will experience a completely new way of teaching. This can be daunting, but it will also open your mind to new ways of learning.
8. Gain independence
It’s not easy being independent – to paraphrase Destiny's Child – but it’s also a heck of a lot better than living with your parents as a 20-something.
9. Learn self-reliance
Moving abroad is the ultimate test in self-reliance. When (or if) you move back, you’ll likely rely on others less and you’ll take more responsibility for yourself.
10. You’ll gain a greater knowledge of different cultures
Cultural sensitivity isn’t just a quality which politicians may be accused of lacking; it’s also something you can develop while studying abroad!
11. See your own culture through a new lens
It’s easy to accept your own culture as absolute, but living in another country can help inform your point of view on your home culture, allowing you to develop your own views rather than simply accepting those defined by where happen to come from.
12. Learn more about yourself
Throwing yourself into a completely new environment will help you to figure out what you’re good at, as well as what you’re not so good at. These are things that can then be built on during your study abroad experience.
13. Become an adult
Speed up the transition from teenager to adult by leaping into the unknown. You’ll have to fend for yourself, buy your own meals and wash your own clothes, but it’ll all be worth it.
14. Gain life experience
One of the ultimate reasons to study abroad is to gain life experience. You’ll learn how to organize your life and condense it into one suitcase, handle unforeseen situations, be independent and self-sufficient.
15. Be spontaneous and adventurous
When you’re hundreds of thousands of miles away from home, spontaneity and adventurousness are your best friends. Open your mind up to new experiences and sights and the fun will come your way.
16. You learn to appreciate the smaller things more
Studying abroad usually means you have even fewer possessions than the average student, and being that much further from home can really make you miss those familiar comforts you’d taken for granted. Welcome to a new-found appreciation of everything from your parents’ cooking to having more than two pairs of shoes to choose from.
17. Gain a global mind-set
Whether it’s in work, study or play, you’ll be able to use your new global mind-set to back up arguments, inform your beliefs and steer your future.
18. Get the perks of international student discounts
Student discounts are always fun but 100 times more so when you’re shopping in a new store with funny-looking money! (Disclaimer: don’t spend it all at once.)
19. It’s an unforgettable experience
Even if your friends back home get bored of hearing about it (warning: they will), your study abroad experience will stay with you long after it’s over.
20. You’ll appreciate your home and family more
Any memories of parental arguments or sibling rivalry will pale in comparison to your memories of how amazing they are. (Likewise, they’ll have time to forget about all your less attractive attributes too…) When you get back these relationships will look so much stronger!
21. International student funding is becoming more common
Studying abroad doesn’t have to leave you penniless, as more and more institutions and governmental bodies are offering dedicated scholarships for international students. To discover international scholarships from around the world, see this page.
22. Take advantage of lower tuition fees
This of course depends on where you study abroad, but if you choose a location in many parts of continental Europe, Asia and Latin America, you’ll find it’s possible to study at a highly reputed university without getting into five-figured debt.
23. Use your spare time to explore
In between lectures and lab sessions, studying abroad should leave you with plenty of time to explore. Whether you’re one for visiting iconic landmarks, trying new foods or bartering at local markets, there’s always bound to be a better way of spending your time than scrolling through Facebook!
24. Increase your international job prospects
While you can always go home at the end of your time as an international student, many choose to stay put and apply for a working visa. Even if you return home or decide to seek work elsewhere, the international experience provided by studying abroad is likely to be looked on favorably by employers.
25. Because “variety is the spice of life”
It might be something your dad says when opting for a different flavor of crisps at the supermarket, but it’s true; change, variety and new experiences are what make life worth living. Mix it up a bit: study abroad!
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