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Jan 03 2018
by Variya Tongtip

What I Learned from Studying Abroad in London My First Semester of College

By Variya Tongtip - Jan 03 2018

As a freshman, I recently had the amazing opportunity to do something that most freshmen at other colleges were not able to do which was studying abroad. Studying abroad is usually reserved for upperclassmen, however, Skidmore College has the London First-Year Experience Program which allowed myself and 24 other students to travel to London and live there for our first semester. I remembered going to Skidmore as a junior in high school and listening to the program for the first time. It never really sparked an interest in me because I knew that once I get into a college, I wanted to head straight to campus and start my "college experience." 

A few months after my acceptance email arrived, I received an email one morning saying that if I wanted to participate in the London program, there are still spots available and all I had to do was write an email along with a personal essay suggesting why I am ready to be studying abroad. I showed my mom the email in the morning, and in the midst of excitement, we all agreed that I should go. I was in the middle of my mock exams so I hurriedly threw together an essay after I got out of the exam room, ran it by some people, clicked send and walked into my next mocks. Thinking back to it, everything went by way too fast for me to even think: am I truly ready for studying abroad? 

I didn't know how to react to being in London prior to flying. Some people told me they absolutely hated it, whilst others told me that they loved it. There was really no middle ground for me to help me get adjusted. My parents hated London without ever entering the United Kingdom before, and because of that, I was determined to like London even more. Through this, the last four months went by so fast, but it was packed with lifelong lessons for me, and in some cases, relearning these lessons. 

I remembered that time really does fly by, and if we don't take in the moments, they will be gone before you even realize it. The moments, especially the small ones will be the ones that we will remember in the future. Running down to Sainsbury at 10 p.m. on a cookie hunt after watching an episode of Friends will be the memory that stands out in comparison to multiple walks around London that we took for my literature class. If you're in high school, make most of the time that you still have left, especially if you're a senior. One day, you're going to miss walking down the hallway to your class with your friends. Make those little moments count. 

London taught me to appreciate the history and culture of each place. Never again will I travel somewhere without reading about the history there. Everything has an affect on everything, London, being almost 2,000 years old has so much history to it that I wished I had learned more. That being said, I did take a London history course during my time there, but that has made me want to know even more. I wish we had more time to cover the effects of the Black Death in detail, or to understand more about the Great Fire of London. This class showed me that is there is always more to learn, more to understand. It showed me that knowledge is truly infinite. 

And most importantly, London taught me to never judge a city before you truly experience it. This experience has taught me that there is a clear, distinct difference between the travelling and being a tourist. You become more appreciative of a city when you live there as a local, and not a visitor. You get the privilege of learning about the little quirks and rules of the city that you would not have learned anywhere else. For example, if you don't want to get yelled at in the tube, then don't stand on the left, take notice at how everyone is standing on the right and follow suit. Please. 

If there is one thing I want to say to London is thank you. Thank you for introducing me to some wonderful people that have greatly impacted my life and thank you for teaching me life lessons that I will never forget. And most importantly, thank you for being unapologetically you. I will never forget about walking through Southwark and looking up to the marvelous skyscrapers, eating at Honest Burgers with friends and watching Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe. There's a special place saved for you in my heart mate. 

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash 

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Variya Tongtip - Skidmore College

Variya Tongtip is a freshman at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, but is currently abroad in London! Follow her on Instagram: @variyatongtip

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