As a kid growing up in India, studying abroad had always been a dream for me. With each year in middle and high school, I inched towards making my dream come true. All high school students stumble upon a critical juncture when they have to choose which country they wish to pursue their higher education in. It’s never an easy decision to make, there are so many factors to be considered. Fortunately, for me, this was never a different question. I always knew I belonged at Northeastern when I first visited the campus back in 2019. However, a part of me always wanted to live in England and be a part of the rich heritage and culture the country has to offer.
When I first came to Northeastern, all faculty, staff, and students I interacted with couldn’t stop emphasizing the fact that Northeastern is truly a global university that provides students with opportunities every year, every term. I did not realize how true that was until I was presented with a chance to spend the spring semester of my freshman year in London as a part of the Global Quest Program. This brings me here today, from London, as I share with you my expectations before landing in London as well as my first impressions of this dreamy destination.
We’ve all seen movies and read books that have described this city as one of the most sophisticated places in the world. Rich in history and rooted in culture, London is so much more than its double-decker buses in the unstoppable rain, the super fast underground tube with stations I can’t even pronounce, and of course, the marvellous Tower Bridge (which interestingly enough, offers its spectacular views from our very own New College of Humanities’ campus). I always pictured the streets of London to be packed with men and women in flowing trench coats and boots with English hats, sipping tea as they make their way to their destination. With time, I also started envisioning London with its high rise skyscrapers housing some of the biggest companies of the world with employees dressed sharply in creaseless suits.
The days leading up to my departure date only fuelled my imagination of what it would be like to live in a city so highly spoken of. As any traveller to an entirely new place, I had nervous jitters but also confidence that I would be able to do it all since I had already done that when I first came to Boston. However, as my trip came closer and closer, I started to feel overwhelmed and went on to doubt myself since I did not know any of my fellow peers travelling. At this point, I believe it is really important to emphasise the fact that every individual has their own experiences and this is just an honest reflection of my arrival in London.
After gruelling five hours of air travel amidst the COVID scare, I finally made it to Heathrow airport on a typical rainy day. The journey was not over yet; the accommodation was still an hour’s ride away. I have to give it to the ride, I saw majestic historical sites, museums, and even police officers on horses! It felt like I was in a real-life movie. Even though everything seemed perfect at first, I started feeling a sinking feeling as soon as I stepped into my dorm room. Maybe it was homesickness, maybe it was the normal feeling of being in a new country, maybe it was just the jet lag. I could not figure it out.
The following day, after I tested negative (get yourself tested and stay safe!) I found the courage (yes, it takes courage to socialize with people you don’t know!) to go socialize and take part in a group trip to Camden Market. Camden is one of the most popular tourist markets known for its one of a kind vintage offerings in clothes, art, and music. It is also a very popular spot for music lovers to spend their weekend nights at one of the numerous bars and clubs surrounding this area that offer live jazz and other music. Pro-tip for anyone visiting Camden, food stalls around here offer free tasting before you commit to paying them a good amount for food you might not like, thus, I encourage you to take advantage of this tradition just to be sure of your food options, and choose the best. For all the falafel fans out there, Magic Falafel not only offers free tasting of their falafels with their famous tahini sauce but also adds a piece of a new food item in your order to try!
Despite trying to mingle with other members of my cohort, I couldn’t feel at peace in this new city. When I looked around me, all my peers were having a great time which made me wonder whether I was being weird (you aren’t alone if you’ve felt this way). During this time, I made calls back home to my friends, video called my family (thanks to the technology), and even reached out for help. With time, I realized I didn’t have the “honeymoon phase” with moving away and I was in the disorientated phase the entire time. It is really important to keep in mind that your personal experience may be different from others around you. It is imperative that you go easy on yourself, stay in touch with the people you love, and reach out for help if needed. As days passed and I had a better routine and fading jet lag, I started to adapt and accept the new realities and began to blend into the surroundings. I found that keeping myself occupied with things I like to do, such as decorating my dorm to make it feel more like home, helped me cope with the ‘lost’ feeling I had initially.
If you are someone considering studying abroad, I cannot emphasize enough that it is a courageous step in itself. Trying to get out of your comfort zone and exploring things is never easy, it wasn’t meant to be. Homesickness is normal and using strategies that work for you during this time are essential. At the end of the day, a study abroad experience, especially in London, is definitely going to be a memorable one when you (and I) absorb everything this wonderful city has to offer!