My First Year Abroad Experience in London & Advice for Future Students

Post submitted by Sydney, a 2019/2020 FYA London program participant.

A Recap of My First Year Abroad (FYA):

“Why did you choose FSU London?” This was the first question asked during my FYA orientation in June 2019. Each student had a different answer. I chose to spend my FYA at FSU London because I love to travel and wanted to make the most of my freshman year by exploring the world and growing both personally and academically. Why spend a year on campus when I could have “the world as my oyster?”

I chose FSU for 3 main reasons: it is a great school academically (#18 and counting), and an exceptional study abroad program. To make this perfect scenario even better, as an out-of-state student, after my year abroad I get in-state-tuition for the next 3 years- saving up to $40,000. All of the pieces added up and I can say I am so grateful to have spent my First Year Abroad in London. Well…not my full first year. I am one of the thousands of study abroad students who had to be sent home due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The build-up of virus cases progressed quickly. It became inevitable that we would have to leave London at some point. However, I was determined to stay until the last minute. But, after much discussion and information from International Programs and the FSU London staff, I booked my one-way ticket back to Atlanta with a disappointed mind and my whole new life packed away in suitcases. Despite a challenging last couple of weeks when the pandemic was heightening, I could not be more grateful for the 183 incredible days I had in the UK. It has been difficult to come to terms with the reality of my situation. As I write this, I would have just arrived at FSU Valencia for my summer semester. I’m trying to use my experience to grow as a person, continue learning about the world and staying in touch with my new friends who I will see on campus in August.

In this blog, you will find more information about my experiences at FSU London and some tips I have for future students who choose to study abroad.

Why London?

I must state the obvious. They speak English in the UK — but you already knew that. One of my goals for London was to meet the locals. I thought if I spoke the language, that would be one less thing to worry about. But, don’t let anyone tell you the UK is basically the same as the US. Yes, a majority of the people in both countries speak English, but there are so many distinct differences. First, the legal drinking age in the UK and most of Europe is 18. This allowed us to go to the pub with friends after a long week of class, and to taste local wine when traveling around Europe. Second, the UK also has the benefits of cheap, easy European travel due to the proximity of geographically to mainland Europe. In fact, most of the flights I took lasted just about an hour, and cost less than $50 round trip! Third, as of now, but subject to change due to Brexit, the UK agricultural guidelines are consistent with that of the European Union, which means not using preservatives in food. This list could go on and on, and I would have likely not realized most of this had I just been a tourist for a couple of days. I became a Londoner — something I thought would be impossible when I first arrived.

A view of the Shard in London

FSU London Study Center: the Building, the Professors, the Staff

My favorite part of living at the Study Center in London is the location. Our flats (apartments), classrooms, library, computer labs are all right in the center of the city (look on a map and you will see). Bloomsbury is a historical upper-class neighborhood and we, as FSU students, live and go to class there. To make everything better, we are less than a 2-minute walk from a major Tube (Underground Public Transportation) station, meaning we can get to any train station, airport, and other parts of the city very easily. Also, there is the World’s first YMCA and a 24-hour restaurant almost next door. To say the least, the location of the Study Centre is absolutely incredible.

I also appreciated that our classes and professors are all affiliated with FSU — something generally uncommon for study abroad students. This means the credits we earn are consistent with what we would have learned on campus, so we will not be behind when we return. Also, since we had classes a fraction of the size of main campus classes, I got to really know my classmates and professors. What I was most looking forward to about the classes abroad were the excursions we took as a class.

If I had to pick the most memorable class excursion, it would have to be my public speaking class in Brixton. Instead of speaking in the classroom all of the time, we utilized the city as much as possible. As a class, we took the Tube 30 minutes to Brixton where each of us spoke about two different attractions and created a walking tour. I have been on at least 10 walking tours in my life, but this was a whole different experience. My classmates and I selected the places we visited and spoke to each other about the history of them. This is the power of studying abroad. You’re able to get out of the classroom and learn so much more about the subject and the place you are living in.

Looking back, I have a hard time remembering all that we did, because there was so much going on all of the time. I was studying and traveling non-stop, but what I loved most was the planned trips for us each semester. We traveled to 3-weekend trips each semester, all planned and organized by the staff. Not only was it stress-free for us because we did not have to plan anything, but we were able to make memories in these places as a group. If I had to choose my favorite weekend trip, it would have had to be Cornwall, UK.

Cornwall, UK is a small county in Southwest England and considered the “Surfing Capital of the UK”. But, don’t tell someone from Cornwall that they are English. The Cornish have a special sense of their own nationality, and some even speak their own language: Cornish, and have their own flag. It was our much needed first trip away from London about a month after arriving. We went surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, had a BBQ at the hostel, and stopped at Tintagel Castle. The best part of the trip was strengthening connections with each other while enjoying the beautiful views. Oh, and don’t forget the famous Cornish scones!

A scene in Cornwall

My Top 3 Pieces of Advice for Studying Abroad:

  1. Keep a written or digital record of your adventures. Why? You will lose track of days like nothing else. How else are you going to tell your grandkids about your abroad experience? I was so busy the entire time that I wouldn’t be able to remember any of it had I not journaled every day.
    • Tip: Use some sort of calendar and/or reminders to keep up with your commitments so you make less scheduling mistakes.
  2. Get out of the FSU “bubble” and meet the locals! A downside to living at an FSU Study Center is the inaccessibility to meeting local students because everyone living there is studying abroad. I challenge you to attend local events, talk to strangers while traveling, and chat with people at bars. You never know who you will meet!
  3. Work to find a balance between your “study” and “abroad” life. You must not forget you are abroad to study, but you are also studying abroad. It is challenging to find the right balance between traveling too much and too little. You will likely struggle with making choices of whether to study for a test or go out with friends. Trust your instincts, and work towards finding a good balance of both — whatever that means for you.
    • Tip: Research and make a list of a few bucket-list places and activities you want to “check-off” by the end of your semester. This will help you personally optimize your priorities. But remember, it is often “the people not the place” that makes the experiences, so choose your travel buddies wisely.

To learn more about our study abroad programs, visit international.fsu.edu.

3 Comments

  1. Such a delight. It makes me proud to see what a bright caring person you are. I’m hopeful that you will have many opportunities in your future to share your love of life and travel. Hopefully you’ll Begin a great learning experience in the fall. Love U

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