Expect the Unexpected


March 12, 2021

Over the last month we have been talking to past students about their Study Abroad experiences in the UK. Today we speak to three students who studied with other UK institutions through Arcadia. Mandy, Natalie and Trudy-Ann reflect on how studying abroad can take you to places you never expected, and set you on a journey of self-discovery.

For Mandy Wall (Sarah Lawrence College), London was always the obvious choice: “my home school, Sarah Lawrence College, didn’t offer a lot of courses directly related to arts management, so studying abroad could be a really good opportunity for me. I decided to study in London for its rich arts and culture scene but the only Sarah Lawrence program in London was for theater so I had to look elsewhere. I found Arcadia through a list of non-Sarah Lawrence programs recommended by the study abroad office and the rest is history.”

Mandy took their semester at Goldsmiths, University of London, an institution well known for its arts programmes. There, they found a range of courses open to them which would not have been available at home, as well, of course, as the chance to immerse themselves in a new culture: “It gave me a chance to explore a new country on my own terms and own pace because it was also my first time in Europe and the furthest I had traveled without a family member.”

However, for Mandy Study Abroad had a far greater impact beyond studying and sightseeing. “One of the biggest self-discoveries I had while I was abroad was that I’m genderfluid. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s a non-binary gender identity that means my identification with any given gender isn’t static and tends to shift. I came to this realization because I couldn’t bring my entire wardrobe to London due to the 50 pound limit for suitcases plus two carry-ons and there were more than a handful of days where I was annoyed I didn’t have a specific article of clothing that would make me look more androgynous or masculine. It was more than being annoyed I didn’t have a piece of clothing I really liked with me, it was being annoyed I wouldn’t have as much control over my gender presentation that I would’ve liked. I couldn’t put these feelings into words until after I left but when I did one of the first people I came out to was a friend I made while in London, who is also trans. I was not expecting to have a gender epiphany while abroad but I’m certainly not going to complain because I feel a lot more comfortable with myself now.”

Goldsmiths confirmed to Mandy that they wanted to pursue a career in Arts Management and go to graduate school, and they started a Master’s Program in Museum Studies at Harvard Extension School in January. More than a year after they left the UK, their time here is still having an impact. Mandy tells us: “My  first assignment for my class “The Future of Historic House Museums” was to write about a memorable visit to a historic house museum and I wrote about the Georgian House in Edinburgh, which I visited while I was abroad. My professor for this class also encourages us to use Zoom backgrounds because she wants our cameras on and all of my Zoom backgrounds are pictures of historic houses I visited while abroad so always have reminders of my time abroad when I’m in class.”

For Trudy-Ann Brown (Temple University), who studied at University College London, Study Abroad brought challenges that affected her both in and outside the classroom. Like many students, she found adapting to the British style of learning difficult. “Reflecting on my experience in London, there were some challenges I faced but there were some amazing experiences that I had. One of the main challenges was adjusting to university life in London. I attended UCL and so it is a very competitive university. Not only the grading scale was different from the American system, but also, the teachings styles were different and there is more independent work. The professors there definitely don't spoon feed you! There are also less opportunities to earn grades. For most of my classes, two assignments count as the entire grade for the semester. This placed a lot of pressure on me to perform well in my classes. I also experienced imposter syndrome throughout my entire time in London because I felt that I was not smart enough and I did not deserve to be at UCL. This contributed negatively to my mental health. In addition, I had a hard time meeting friends and I experienced a lot of struggle with my Catholic faith.”

Trudy-Ann was able to access support here to overcome these difficulties. “I met with one of the program managers at Arcadia. We spoke and we automatically clicked. She made my experience in London so much better! She was able to get me connected with the King's College London Chaplaincy and I was able to speak with Fr. Tim Ditchfield who was the Head Chaplain there. Even though he was an Anglican priest, and I was a Catholic, I felt comfortable speaking with him. He was very understanding, and he related to the many problems that I had faced. I was so surprised that he was open to sharing his experiences with me. I felt like I was speaking with a friend who I had known for many years! During my time in London, I was also able to get connected with a Psychologist. This was helpful as I was able to talk through a lot the problems I was experiencing.”

She now faces a positive dilemma: she has offers from several Ivy League institutions for a Master’s in Social Work, a career choice she says was largely influenced by her experiences abroad, including her time volunteering at the Dragon Hall After School Club as well as the personal struggles she faced her. Wherever she ends up, she has some wise advice for future students: “One main lesson I learned throughout this experience is not to have high expectations. I think I came to London with such high expectations of what my experiences there would be like. However, just come with an open mind. Do not put pressure on yourself to meet as many friends or to go to certain places. Also, do not compared your experiences with others who have done study abroad. One must always be realistic because everyone's situation is a bit different. With the COVID-19 pandemic coming three months after I left London, I am just reminded of the fragility of life and how we must live each day like it is our last. So, if you do not take anything from this blog post, understand the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. Have no regrets!”

Natalie Alcantara (Arcadia) studied on the Internship Programme with Arcadia but chose to take a course at the London College of Fashion alongside. Like many students, studying abroad had been an ambition for many years. “Since I was a little girl, I’ve spent my summers under the scorching rays of the Carribean sun. Being Dominican-American, I split my time between the two countries, raised and immersed in two cultures. It often amazed me how different the two countries were and the different lifestyles my family members lived because of this. I wanted to travel to every country on every continent to experience all that makes our cultures unique. When the time came to apply for colleges, studying abroad was high on my list. Being an exchange student became a dream I needed to fulfill, landing me in Arcadia where I not only spent a semester in London but Paris as well.” 

Natalie made the most of every moment in London, developing professionally, academically and personally. “I wanted to keep my excitement alive until the very last day so I made sure I highlighted a bit of every day. The opportunities I gained made every day unique and exciting. My internship placement was perfect, introducing me to the Public Relations side of the fashion industry, and my courses at the London College of Fashion forced me to integrate myself into the collaborative fashion community in London. To tie it all up, I sought out dance studios to fuel my hobby and ended up featured in a music video a week before my departure! The city blessed me with endless creativity and beautiful souls to connect with.

Natalie also faced some challenges, arriving late due to an error with her visa. However, she settled in quickly, determined not to let these issues mar her experience. Looking back, she says “Studying abroad was the best decision I ever made. It gave me a taste of the world and the freedom to discover myself in a unique environment. I learned the difference between my own beliefs and ideas versus what I was taught by the cultures I grew accustomed to. I’m no longer afraid to make bold choices or jump into the unknown because I gained the skills to adapt during the most insecure time of my life. I know now my dreams aren’t as unattainable as I imagined and I’ve spent every day since my return chasing them.”