Highlights from a semester in London.
On a whim, I applied to study abroad in Europe through Boston University’s London Internship Program and I am so, so glad I did.
The program, at about 16 weeks long, is based out of London’s gorgeous South Kensington neighborhood and consists of a five-week segment of two courses and a seven-week internship period during which you take just one course (along with a spring break and a long end-of-term break before final exams).
The internship phase was, for me, what made my semester the great academic success I feel it was — I got to work at an extremely successful public relations firm in downtown London that really shaped me professionally and helped direct my career goals. It was also just really fun and a great challenge.
However, my experiences outside the workplace and the classroom were unbelievable and immensely important to me in other ways. Here, I’ll try to outline my top five experiences during my London semester.
5. Understanding a new culture and a new place.
Aside from an unbreakable addiction to English breakfast tea, I gained a lot from my semester abroad. I learned a lot about Brits and British culture both from casual encounters in coffee shops, restaurants and pubs and from my internship. It was interesting to compare my home country and my “abroad home” country and see just how different two countries with the same language could be.
I also learned a lot about London as a city — learning the underground system is no small feat and I’m proud to say I think I mastered it. Commuting to and from work had a lot to do with it, but mainly I learned the tube so I could use it to my advantage. When you’ve got limited time, you learn to cherish anything that increases your efficiency. As they say, time is money. With learning the tube came learning the city, and what a great city it is. Bustling with people from all over, London is truly international and I miss it already. Its uniquely rich history, beautiful architecture and skyline and its ability to seem so old while seeming so current amazed me every day.
4. Working for a great company.
There is something to be said about loving where you work — if nothing else, it makes the whole 9-to-5 bit a whole lot easier (or, in this case, 09:00-17:30!). The people were great, and I made connections with everyone from the CEO to my building’s security staff. I miss my internship, my office and my colleagues — I feel truly lucky to have had such a wonderful abroad internship experience. I know not everyone enjoyed their work placement as much as I enjoyed mine.
It was really interesting to compare my work experiences in the U.S. with my internship experience in the U.K. I wasn’t surprised that there were differences, but I was surprised at the differences themselves. I found that British workplaces are less formal and stiff than American offices, particularly in how senior employees address newer employees. I loved how well I got to know my superiors in just a short amount of time. Also, I learned a lot about public relations — it was my first PR internship after internships (and other experiences) in journalism. I loved it and I can’t wait to start my second PR internship in two weeks.
One of the best parts about studying abroad in the United Kingdom is the sudden ease with which you can travel in and around Europe. I made a list of places I wanted to see at the beginning of the semester and narrowed it down (until it was slightly feasible) and then made it happen for myself.
In chronological order, I traveled to: Ireland (twice), Scotland, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Wales, France (twice), the Netherlands, Italy (twice), Turkey and Greece. I journeyed to several different cities within a lot of these countries, something I figured would give me a better idea of the place as a whole.
How lucky am I? I scrounged for money and did things on the cheap (most of the time) but my friends and I had an absolute blast doing so. As my mother says, the worst part of traveling is actually traveling — but if you can survive an eight-hour overnight bus ride during a raging storm, you can survive anything.
2. Increased wanderlust.
I’ve always had an urge to travel and see what’s out there — something I thought a semester in Europe would do a lot of good for. I figured spending almost five months abroad would sate me, at least for a little while. Unfortunately for me (more so for my wallet), my London semester achieved just the opposite. What’s next on my “to be traveled” list? Morocco, South Africa, Thailand, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile and many, many more. I’m dying to see more of the United States, too; I’d love my next trip to be a road-trip across the country.
1. The friends I made.
No post about my London experience would be totally complete without mention of the great friends I made and the friendships I strengthened while studying abroad. You really get to know people when you travel with them and I really feel I grew close with my travel buddies. We talk almost every day and even though I just got home yesterday, we already have plans to meet up on Tuesday and the weekend after. I’m also living with two of my closest study abroad buddies next year at BU — I can’t wait to share an apartment with them! I also have loved keeping in touch with colleagues and hope to continue to do so.