A big part of studying abroad is planning travel to other countries, especially when Europe is so accessible. In fact, the number one question I get asked as an international student is, “What are your travel plans?” While this is a perfectly valid and innocent question, it often leaves me speechless and a little agitated. What do you mean? I’m in England.
Until now, I hardly considered what others expected of my time abroad. Is this constant asking a result of having seen others study abroad before me? Should I be jetting off to foreign destinations every weekend? After almost a month in London, I’ve accepted others’ curiosities, but realized that my in-country adventures are more valuable than seeing as much of the world as possible right now. My seemingly small experiences this last week in particular have made me feel like I’m taking every opportunity to explore the places close to me. This feeling can be summed up in a few short statements:
In trying to plan things to do each week, I realized I’ve been stumbling upon activities that really excite me. Through posters, Facebook suggestions, university emails, and word of mouth, everything I’ve attended this week has been spur of the moment. Because I’m not planning for adventures far in advance, things around me have miraculously coincided with some of my most beloved interests. I was able to see an artist I’ve admired for a while show his own work around London, see the new film Loving Vincent, and attend my first concert of the first band I ever loved. Each event plays into a deep and particular interest which I’m finding immensely valuable to my experience in the UK.
Getting to know New Cross and areas surrounding it, I’ve felt little bits of my childhood and home in the US surround me in this new environment. Recently I wandered around Greenwich Park and up to the Royal Observatory for its incredible view. Then, on my way down, I noticed the trees making up most of the park were chestnut trees. Happily surprised, I began gathering them just like I had when I was a kid, foraging for something I hadn’t looked for in so long. Similarly, I was reawakened to reading for pleasure over the last week - a coming back to books. My flatmate and I visited Waterstones, the largest bookshop in Europe, where we spent four hours exploring and not seeing half of it. Those few hours of reading were the adventure.
All this is not to say that I won’t be traveling out of the country; I’m simply being conscious of where, when, how, and why I’m traveling away from where I wanted to study. I’m not interested in hopping from one tourist destination to the next. As we were told the first day of orientation, “you are not a tourist; you’re a Londoner.”
Now, being completely secure in how I spend my time in the UK, I can let myself venture to another country. Not too far off now, in distance and in time, I will be traveling for an exciting four days in December to Dublin, Ireland! This decision was entirely unexpected, but all-in-all necessary for my overall experience abroad. Upon talking about music with my flatmate, interests collided and culminated in a trip to Dublin to hear a beloved Irish folk band called The High Kings. So at least now I can say I will have traveled to Ireland as well. In short, I simply suggest letting things happen as they do, and planning around every intuition.