Finals and Papers and Exams, Oh My!

Ashley K. University College London, England

Date

April 29, 2016

It’s so hard to believe that my time in London is nearly over. All of my finals are just around the corner and they mark the official end of my academic experience abroad. All of my work has piled up after a quiet break in which I travelled to Madrid and Ibiza. Papers have to be written, research needs to be read, course notes need to be studied – it has been quite overwhelming, especially because some of my papers and exams count as 100% of my grade. Even with this looming over my head, there is still the constant struggle between studying and going out and exploring this beautiful city. I’ve found that a good compromise is studying in London’s beautiful parks. Regent’s Park is just around the corner from my dorm and, weather permitting, I love to go there and study and take a walk to clear my head and focus. The parks are a nice way to escape the chaos of city by surrounding oneself in nature.

Apart from finals looming over my head, I’ve found that I have very mixed feelings about my experience abroad coming to an end. With only a few short weeks left until I return home, I’ve found that I’m caught between the desire to stay in London and the desire to return home. I grew much more homesick during break, in which UCL students had a full month off. It was much easier to not think about home when I had a set schedule with classes every day, research to conduct, papers to write, friends to hang out with, etc. But during break, the students in my dorm, most of whom were British, went home so the entire hallway was very quiet and lonely. Many of my friends’ families came to visit and traveled for a month across Europe so hanging out became much less frequent. Without a set schedule to keep me busy, it was much easier to miss home. I was so lucky and grateful that my family was able to come visit for a week during break, which eased my homesickness quite a bit, but it was still just as difficult to watch them leave again.

But with this in mind, I’ve learned so much about myself and my strength and weaknesses that will hopefully help future study abroad students:

  • My confidence level has skyrocketed.
    Before this experience, I never thought I’d be able to do anything as major living in a foreign country on my own. Now that I’ve managed to successfully transition to and immerse myself in a new culture, all the other things I’ve worried about seem so much less daunting. I’ve challenged myself to do things I would have been to scared to do before, both academically and socially. I applied for a psychology research assistant position at UCL and got accepted, I went to psychology events, made new friends, presented research at a conference, etc. All of these things would have seemed too daunting before, but now I know that I’m capable of much more than I previously thought.
  • My social anxiety was a bit of a challenge.
    I had social anxiety prior to my trip abroad and it certainly came out during my experience, but it wasn’t a major problem. Meeting new people was particularly difficult at first because I’m a generally shy and anxious person, but I found that forcing myself to go to social events and talking to people in my classes helped abate my social anxiety. Forcing myself to go outside my comfort zone, as difficult as it was, helped tremendously. Even taking small steps, like talking to someone in my hallway or going to course socials (which was where I met the majority of my friends) can make a huge difference. It will most likely be difficult at first if you also have social anxiety, but finding people with similar interests or people in your hallway to talk to has been so helpful in adjusting to life in London.

With this in mind, I also have some tips for students who are considering studying abroad:

  • Take every academic opportunity that is presented to you, even if it is outside your comfort zone.
    During orientation for affiliate psychology students, they presented us with the opportunity to apply to be a research assistant for a professor. I never thought that I’d get the position, but conducting research at UCL was something that I’d only dreamed of doing and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without at least applying. I applied and went to the professor’s walk-in hours to introduce myself and express my interest in the research assistant position, still not thinking that I had a shot. Being accepted was one of the best feelings in the world and provided me with even more opportunities. I was able to present at a conference, conduct a research study with an awesome research assistant, be mentored by an amazing researcher, write up a research report, attend research meetings with graduate and Ph.D. students, etc. I even got internship credit from my home university, which has allowed me to go back to work this summer. This experience has improved my skills as a research assistant, which will transfer to my work back home where I am continuing my work as a research assistant as well.
  • Get your papers done early!
    I know this doesn’t sound fun, but I learned the hard way that waiting to write papers that you’ve known about for months is never a good idea. It’s easy for travelling and exploring London to get in the way of writing papers, but if you get your work done early, you’ll have more time to do these things without stressing about deadlines. I made this mistake a few times and each time the looming deadline made writing the paper all the more difficult. I wrote my most recent papers early and found that not having a looming deadline hanging over my head made exploring London and travelling so much more enjoyable.
  • Find a balance between academics and exploring.
    I know that we are here to study, but the social aspects of studying abroad can teach you some valuable lessons as well. Take a break from studying and get lunch with a friend, attend an event that you’d never thought you’d go to, talk to the students in your hallway, immerse yourself in the new environment and culture – all of these things are important. Exploring your new environment outside the academic realm will help you feel more at home and comfortable. Also, try to do some “academic” exploring. By this I mean that if you are a psychology major, go to a psychology museum or exhibit. My friends and I went to a psychology and neuroscience event called “Feeling Emotions” and also travelled to the Freud Museum. I even bought a pair of “Freudian Slippers” which may be my favorite thing that I’ve purchased here.
  • Finally, put the phone/camera away, at least for a little while.
    One of the things that I personally tend to get caught up in is documenting every moment of my abroad experience. I took so many pictures the first few days that I was here that I nearly filled up the storage on my phone. But I quickly realized that I was missing out on the things I was so scared of missing because I was seeing everything through a screen. My advice to you is put the camera and phone down and BE PRESENT. Take a picture or two and then put the phone away. A good friend had warned me about this before I left, and I now understand how valuable this advice is. I remembered his advice at a James Bay concert. I pulled out my phone to record my favorite song, but then realized that I’d probably never look at the video again. Nor would it be the same quality as hearing the song live. I put my phone away and belted out the lyrics to my favorite song, and this moment has become one of my fondest memories. Sure, I don’t have a video or picture of it, but being present in that moment has made it so much more memorable and enjoyable. Taking pictures is a great way to remember your experience, but try not to experience everything through a cell phone or camera screen.