Well, my first month abroad has passed and I survived. I’ve lived through a month of classes, commutes, and hockey practices. An entire month of adjustments, sightseeing, and getting way too little sleep. I think now, after this first month, I’m at a good place to stop and reflect to see how I’m doing in London and at LSE.
At first glance, I’m doing just fine. I can now navigate campus, play as goalkeeper for the women’s 1st hockey team, and even cook meals for myself regularly. I can now navigate parts of London without a map, know which stamps to buy at the Post Office, and masterfully direct my way through the underground. However, this experience is much more than figuring out the day-to-day basics, though to be fair, that’s an important aspect. My year at LSE is also about personal growth. It’s just as much about finding myself as it is about finding where my classes are held or where to find the best Indian cuisine in town (which, by the way, I have).
So how is that going? How is this personal transformation that I’m expected to experience working out? I’d say it’s also doing just fine. I’ve had my fair share of doubts, concerns, and worries this past month and I think it’s only fair I share them with you. Trust me, any study abroad blog that solely posts pretty smiling pictures of their travels is not doing their experience justice. I hope to share all aspects of the study abroad experience because I know it would’ve been useful a year ago when I was looking into programs. So hopefully an accurate insight into my experiences will help out someone else.
I think the first major moment when I realized I was growing personally was when I found out that I wasn’t like the people around me. My early friends in the program had different ideas of what they wanted to do for fun compared to what I wanted to do. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, this left me feeling inadequate and antisocial. Why couldn’t I just enjoy doing what they did? How am I supposed to make friends if we don’t enjoy similar activities? Am I doomed to be forever alone, abandoned in my flat and constrained by mismatched desires? Okay that last one was a tad dramatic, but you get my point.
These anxieties mostly linked to my worries of an unfulfilled year. Here I am at the second best school in the world for my field of study, and what will I have to show for it? This question was crucial to me, as I was sure that the tools for success were here if I just knew where to look. Unfortunately, the club fair left me underwhelmed with most of the political societies on campus and I felt grossly underprepared for the business ones. This left me in quite a predicament. Not only did I not feel a connection with these initial friends but I couldn’t even thrive professionally? How was I supposed to get connected with the political sphere on campus, or London, if I wasn’t a part of a political society?
These concerns were confounded with worries about my academic success. I had picked LSE specifically for its academic rigor, in fact for me that was its main selling point. I didn’t just want a travel experience, I wanted a challenge. And boy did LSE provide! The lectures are some of the most interesting and thought provoking I’ve had the pleasure of participating in, but the outside work is heavy. The work load itself isn’t actually much different from mine back home, but adjusting to a completely new system made everything twice as difficult.
So again, here I was feeling like a disappointment socially, professionally, and academically.
But, over the course of the month my thinking evolved some as I got into my schedule. I joined the hockey club, and thanks to prior experience, was able to start for their first team! I love the sport, and missed it immensely, so this was great news for me. Even better? I actually made friends. Granted, we’re not quite at the level of ‘best friends forever’ yet, but I have people to talk to if I need it and that’s great. I even met people in my classes ( – who knew friends could be found in so many different places?) and through them I’ve managed to learn about some exciting upcoming opportunities and events. One I’m most looking forward to is a Christmas party where we get to hear the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, speak.
Surprisingly, I’ve found that LSE is quite easy to get involved with, outside of clubs. Just because I didn’t connect right away with a particular political group doesn’t mean I’m doomed forever. There are public lectures on an array of unique topics available to attend throughout each month, and because the clubs aren’t as rigid here as back home it’s easy to get involved later in the game. I’ve just learned about a society called ‘Politics & Forum’ where members debate current issues and I’m very excited to start attending sessions. Also, I found out that I could sign up online to any club I want and automatically be added to their mailing list. I decided to cast a broad net and see what interested me, joining anything from the hummus society to a club focused on women in business. We’ll see what pans out but I can’t see much downfall with a club exclusively dedicated to hummus.
All in all, I still have my moments where I worry I’m not doing enough. Considering I’ve moved across an ocean to a completely different academic system with people I’ve never met and in places I’ve never seen, then I think those moments are natural. You’re bound to feel alone or worried sometimes. But at the same time, you’ll also learn more about yourself than you knew was possible. I’ve found out what makes me happy and what doesn’t. That sometimes I need to stay home instead of going out, and that’s okay. I’ve found that trying to smash your version of happiness into someone else’s is a recipe for disaster and that feeling overwhelmed is just a part of the process.
So, the moral of the story? Get to know yourself. Find out what you need personally to feel comfortable and happy, and then pursue those interests. Don’t define yourself by the standards of others (whether a social group or even a future employer you’ve imagined in your head) because self-motivation is more powerful than any fear of rejection. And finally… allow yourself to feel scared or overwhelmed sometimes. Because after all, those things are a part of you too.