I knew I was going to study abroad while in college, but my school had so many interesting classes and events every semester, that I was worried I would miss out on those experiences. I also knew I wanted to go on a longer and more independent trip than a summer group trip abroad, and that I needed to do something during the long summer months between school years as well. I did a lot of research, talked to the study abroad office about my decisions on what type of study abroad experience I hoped for and what my top picks were for countries to visit, and decided on what types of classes I was hoping to take while abroad, as I hoped to use my time there to study unique topics that fit both my studies and the country I would call home. I was ecstatic to find a program through IES Abroad that would send me to London for six weeks, where I would study 15th and 16th century London history, and architecture.
We lived in apartments near King's Cross and took classes in a building two blocks from the British Museum. While there, I had the opportunity to explore London on a deeper level than just a tourist, finding the Pho lunch stop where all the City of London businessmen and women eat, learning where and when to buy the cheap theatre tickets, visiting touring exhibitions in the numerous famous museums in London, and more. We also took courses from two brilliant London professors who never kept us in the classroom but would walk us around, showing us the physical evidence of our studies rather than out of a textbook, which was something I was incredibly grateful for.
The biggest takeaways I had from my study abroad experience included:
You can do all kinds of research ahead of time, but when you get there, listen and learn from people who live there, and you will have even more amazing and one-of-a-kind experiences.
Don't be afraid to go alone. Be safe and prepared for the loneliness that can happen, but let that push you to get to know new people while you are there. You'll make lifetime friends.
Overpacking clothes is the worst for a long trip. Especially in bigger cities, you can buy whatever you need there, save room for all the stuff you want to bring home.
Definitely take photos, but put the phone/camera down and experience those special moments too without a screen in the way. Also look for the other ways to preserve the memory, like ticket stubs to museums and plays, as there are lots of places where you can't take a photo, so you will want a memento.
Write it down! You will cherish those memories dearly, and will help you remember the stories to tell when you get home.