As this semester draws to a close, I think I’ve been so consumed with my life of exams and papers at UW to really come to terms with the fact that I’m actually going to be going to London next semester. Since my first years in high school, studying abroad in college was always the plan, though at the time I didn’t know when or where. Now that the date I’ve been waiting for is actually approaching, I’ve been slowly starting to finalize my preparations: getting my UK visa and going to my biometrics appointment, deciding what I should bring, and buying my plane ticket. The logistics of travel planning have slowly brought me out of my academic fog to bring me to an important reality: I’m going to be setting foot in London in just about a month.
That fact alone is shocking, exhilarating, and if I’m being perfectly honest, kind of terrifying. Just making the move to a large university like UW-Madison was a significant adjustment for a small-town girl like me to make. At home, I live and grew up in a sleepy Illinois town on a farm with my mother and my two cats. There’s next to no noise, lots of trees and fresh air, and a corn field that is literally in our backyard. At night you can see the stars pretty well and if we’re really lucky, we can catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
The city of London, obviously, is absolutely nothing like that. If Madison was considered “the big city” to me, then London might as well be on another planet. I’ve had the privilege to travel to many different cities from Toronto to St Petersburg, but aside from my time at UW-Madison, I have never experienced actually living in a large metropolitan city. As a tourist, I’ve been able to experience foreign cities through a tour guide’s eyes as they show me only the most wonderful aspects of the city to curious foreigners.
When I start my program at the Federation for International Education as a part of UW-Madison’s “UW in London” program, I know that my life will be completely different from that of a tourist. I can’t just read the museum displays, take pictures, and hop on a plane to go home to sweet American familiarity. I will need to adjust my view of what I’ve come to consider “normal” to figure out a new foreign world where “normal” is something completely different. To add even more pressure, I will not only have to figure this new life out as a student, but also as an intern.
I’ve never worked as an intern before, so I know that trying to juggle the adjustment to a new student life, a new work life, and a new personal life will be a tremendous challenge. I don’t yet know what internship they will assign me to, who my roommates will be, or where the local grocery store is. To get around London and to my internship placement, I will have to use the “tube” — I’ve never even been on a subway before, only buses and trains. I can already see myself over planning and arriving early, considering I spent my first day of class at UW-Madison arriving an hour early for my 8am history class and camping out in the Humanities Building as a result.
It is this challenge and confusion, however, that inspired me to apply for this program. I know that if I just stick to the life that I know, then I will never be able to understand how others may view life differently. It is comforting to know that I will be with my fellow Badgers and other American students who are trying to adjust to life in the UK too, so we will all have the opportunity to learn together as a group. London is incredibly diverse, which excites me to no end, but also makes me feel at ease knowing that I won’t exactly be the only foreigner that lives there. The adjustment won’t be easy, seeing as my whole life will be flipped upside down, and I know that no amount of preparation will alleviate my fears completely. The true learning, I believe, will come from actually experiencing the city for myself. As I learn what to do and what not to do, I’m hoping that my nerves will calm down and I’ll be able to make the most of my semester in London.
Until then, I should probably start packing…