My top 5 study abroad memories

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.

3. Travel.

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.

On finishing up and moving on, twice

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

The Henry David Thoreau quote above succinctly sums up my feelings about the past two and a half years of my life. I have always had goals; something to look forward to achieving and to look forward to planning. When I was at Skidmore College my freshman year — and when I decided I no longer wanted to go to school there — I was often distracted by the transferring process despite my commitments to the field hockey team, my friends, my job and my schoolwork. I spent hours researching schools and applying, and then was forced to wait before eventually gaining acceptance to Boston University. Before moving to my new dorm just off Commonwealth Avenue, I joined The Daily Free Press, or what would become my home away from home. I joined, hoping to make a couple new friends and write a few news stories. Little did I know that signing up would catapult me to a whole new world I had never imagined.

Before joining the FreeP, my knowledge of journalism extended only to what I had read in my favorite newspapers. Since signing up, I’ve seen and done things I never thought were possible. I covered the Whitey Bulger trial and I covered the Boston Marathon bombings. I broke one of BU’s largest news stories last year when the FreeP announced BU administrators’ decision to shut down gender-neutral housing. I’ve learned how to take journalistic photos and how to bang out a 500-word news story in 10 minutes or less. I’ve also made amazing connections at my university and am so grateful to have had the chance to meet so many amazing individuals. Over the past year and a half, I’ve developed relationships with some of the smartest, most fascinating people in one of the world’s most amazing cities. I have made friends I’ll never forget. I really can’t get much luckier than that.

During my time at the FreeP, I was a staff writer, the Student Government beat reporter, an associate campus editor and the campus editor. After we put the paper to bed early this morning, though, my exact role became unclear for the first time since September 2012. Today is the first day that, as a BU student, I have not held a position on the paper’s news staff.

I move to London on Jan. 10 to study and intern abroad. It seems crazy that I found out I would be studying abroad on Oct. 9 and now, I’m set to travel in just under a month. Besides a desperate need to pack and little bit of unfinished business at the British Consulate, I’m all set, and I have a state of mind I haven’t in a long time. I have my travel plans nailed down. I have my UK internship set up as well. As soon as I finish my studies in London, I’m traveling and then moving right along, again, to my summer gig. I know everything that’s happening, to some degree, in the immediate future.

For now, I’ve reached all my goals and have transformed as a writer, journalist, editor and person. While sometimes by the end of the evening I was a tad worse for the wear, I always got something out of each night at our little office at 648 Beacon St. I’ve learned a lot about Boston, a lot about AP style and way more than I ever cared to know about higher education.

So, what now? There is nothing to organize. No issues to plan. No stories to edit.

The semester flew by. The next month will too.

I think, for now, I’m just going to sit back and let it all rush by me.

Covering ‘Whitey’—my account as an area native

It finally hit me as I was standing on the second floor of John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston Thursday morning, gazing out of its impressive wall of glass: I was about to hear and report on the opening statements of what will be one of the most famous trials of all time.

BMl4RskCcAEOk9k-1

Me, holding a James “Whitey” Bulger t-shirt outside of John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston at 6 a.m. Thursday morning.

While I never knew exactly how much Thursday would influence me, I have known for years now the importance of this trial to both Boston and to the world of journalism. On June 22, 2011, law enforcement officials arrested James “Whitey” Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Grieg, in Santa Monica, Calif. I can remember reading Kevin Weeks’ book, Brutal, out loud to my mother off the screen of my iPhone the next day in the car on the way to Martha’s Vineyard. While our interest in the case of the alleged mobster and leader of the Winter Hill Gang hit its peak just after his arrest after 16 years on the lam, I had grown up hearing about Bulger, a Boston legend, infamous for ruling my city’s underground for more than 30 years. Weeks said Bulger once told him, in his life, he’d killed 40 men.

Weeks, one of Bulger’s ex-hechmen who served jail time for murder, eventually became an FBI informant, revealing alleged truths about Bulger’s rackets to reduce his own sentence. His book was as fascinating as it was shocking, in its descriptions of Bulger’s hold on Boston in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s before he fled the city in 1994. Weeks provided readers with gruesome, in-depth accounts of he and Bulger’s exploits, in which they murdered victims and buried them in the basement of a house at 799 East 3rd Street in South Boston, only to have to dig the corpses up again years later and re-bury them miles away upon deciding to sell the house.

Additionally, Weeks spared no details revolving around Bulger’s alleged shakedown business, wherein he would use fear and intimidation to convince locals to fork over large sums of cash. He would tell a cocaine dealer or a bookkeeper, or, really, anyone he didn’t like, that someone had paid Bulger a certain amount of cash to murder them. Then, he’d have them pay him off to not. The thought of one man manipulating and double-crossing so many people is almost unfathomable. No movie that I’ve seen (such as The Departed) has done Bulger’s true influence justice.

Along with Bulger’s other ex-cronies Stephen Flemmi and John Martorano, Weeks will testify against Bulger at some point over the coming months. J.W. Carney Jr., representing Bulger, largely sought to discredit all three in his opening argument, recommending that jurors be wary of testimony from three known murderers. However, he did admit that Bulger lead a life of crime. That much, it seemed, he could not deny without losing credibility himself.

The trial is set to last until mid-September. Its proceedings are being followed by all major Boston news outlets, including the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. Additionally, outlets such as CNN and the New York Times have been keeping up with the case’s happenings. Most news organizations had several representatives present either in Courtroom 11 with Bulger or in Courtroom 6, the media overflow room. I sat next to CNN producer Ross Levitt and near the Globe’s Milton Valencia and Kevin Cullen in the overflow room, which broadcast the proceedings on two large TVs with an accompanying audio feed.

For years now, I’ve been looking forward to having the opportunity to watch Bulger’s trial. I never imagined I’d actually be able to cover it, something which, as a Boston-area native and a student journalist, has always been on my bucket list. It was really exciting listening to opening arguments and writing my story afterward, which can be found here. Lastly, I’d like to give a shout-out to the staff at Moakley, who were very accommodating even though I’m just a college student journalist. They helped me get a media pass which allowed me to sit in the overflow room and also to bring in my laptop and phone on just two days’ notice which was unbelievably helpful.