What Studying Abroad Taught Me

Tiffany Devonish London, England


August 30, 2016
By Tiffany D., Arcadia in London Summer, England

Many people come back from studying abroad and say that it was a wonderful experience, their best decision ever, and that their time abroad was rather life changing. Students end up giving broad overviews of what they did and how it was and even offer pictures which show them having the time of their lives. Although, “wonderful” “life-changing” and “eye-opening” are great adjectives for the experience it still doesn’t do the experience justice. Even with all this, the person on the other end is left with an incomplete picture of the travel, the road trips, the mistakes, the homesickness, the inspiring, the humorous and the deep conversations and events that happen along the way. They are unaware of the many emotions of either fear, anger, loneliness, happiness, excitement filled moments. The gems of knowledge that you gain from studying in a foreign country is not something I can politely wrap up in a nice bow but I will try at the very least to reflect on my summer abroad in London, England from June 26th to July 29th both academically and personally.

It was a Sunday evening that marked my leaving for London. A nervous happiness swept my stomach as I said my goodbyes to my family. In the airport after the luggage check-in and the moments of waiting, I joined the queue to enter the security check which on the other side led to the plane’s entrance. I hugged and kissed my mother, apologizing for any stress I gave her. She embraced me and told me that I was never a bother as long as I return to her safely. I released her and waved goodbye repeatedly and smiled to lift her spirits about my departure. All the while she smiled masking her vulnerability; I knew deep down that the minute our eyes lost each other she would break down in tears. It was a humbling moment because I realized that regardless of the issues we had, it didn’t matter because I was still her daughter who she loved, her baby whom she couldn’t picture leaving --All was forgiven, all was well. Packed with all the support from my family financially and their last words of wisdom I was eager to go conquer the United Kingdom yet nervous at the fact that I was actually going out there alone, nervous that in this new world that I was going into there would be no hand-holding, no annoying siblings constantly hitting you, no feelings of being stifled, no “Tiffany, get up and clean your room!” because I was free to do as I pleased. My mistakes were my own and no one cared, it was a bittersweet reality.

After that 7 hour ride I hassled through airport lines, took the subway and a cab to reach my dorm. It was exciting to see a new city, I gazed through the windows with a huge grin on my face for the whole 10-minute ride. I was in central London near Russell Square Station, it was busy, people walked faster, the food was a bit bland, the people were quite genuine, the city was full of all kinds of people- more diverse than ever and more interaction between the races compared to the United States. Everywhere I turned I was complimented on my skin color, it was a great confidence booster. I had a week of orientation before my first day of class. My Resident Assistant brought all of us together for a tour of the city showing us how to use the “tube” station, where to go for groceries or for an international phone, the Senate House library for borrowing books and studying and the Arcadia Center for class. We went for a complimentary lunch at an Asian restaurant, we watched a play called, “The Play that Goes Wrong” at the Duchess Theatre and we had many opportunities to go to free/discounted events at places such as the Tower of London, the Sky Garden, Stonehenge and a homestay with a host family for a week.

Classes were held at the Arcadia Center, the curriculum consisted of four (900 word) essays, a (2,000-2,500 word) midterm report, a presentation on the midterm report, and a (3,000-3,500 word) final report. The class met three times a week and was either in-class lectures or in the city at either a museum like the British Museum and Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, or a historical place that contributed to British medicine such as the Chelsea Physic Garden or the Spitafields. Most of the times I was fascinated with exploring the city and learning about natural medicine while I was there. The most memorable and significant field trip was to the Chelsea Physic Garden. The Chelsea Physic Garden, otherwise known as the Apothecaries Garden is the second oldest botanical garden in Britain after the University of Oxford Botanic Garden. The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 for training apprentices in identifying and using medicinal plants. The Garden houses medicinal, edible, fragrance, poisonous and constructive plants. After strolling through the Chelsea Physic Garden the three things that stuck with me were: Firstly, the study of botany and how important it is in bringing forth information about the medicinal uses of plants. Secondly, the particular section of the Chelsea Physic Garden dedicated to cancer and the specific plant in that respect commonly known as the Madagascan Periwinkle or Rosy periwinkle but scientifically named the Catharanthus roseus that I grew up with in Jamaica. Thirdly, I was curious about the recognized benefactor, Sir Hans Sloane and his pursuits of medicine and academic travel to Jamaica.

Firstly, botany is the study of plant biology ranging from a plant’s ecology: the interaction between other organisms and the environment, to a plant’s structure, or more detailed study on a plant’s individual cells and how genetic information in a plant’s DNA controls plant development or finally, simply the study of how plants convert simple chemical compounds into complex chemicals. Even though botany may seem to some to have lost its effectiveness or relevance to society it is still useful today. Botany has a number of advantages such as: (1) understanding and predicting global climate changes (2) growing entire plants from single cells (3) biotechnology (inserting desirable genes into a plant and having those genes expressed), (4) horticulture, (5) forestry and (6) plant pathology. Botany is very useful for raw materials and in the case of an endangered or extinct plant. Also, plant taxonomists and ecologists work to discover plant species that could bring new resources, cures and biological diversity to improve the plants we currently have in use.

Speaking of plants, the particular plant that caught my attention in the Chelsea Physic Garden was the Catharanthus roseus “Madagascan periwinkle or rosy periwinkle”. The rosy periwinkle is a plant indigenous to Madagascar but is naturalized in other tropics and subtropical regions due to the time periods of colonization. It is a popular ornamental and medicinal plant that thrives in tropical weather and can be found in gardens and homes across the world. As a young girl, while I frolicked through the gardens of my school and home I simply thought it was beautiful to look at. When making bouquets and hair accessories from the flower petals of the rosy periwinkle I did not stop to think to myself that the sap was toxic or that it could be used to save someone’s life from cancer. In the past, Madagascan healers used rosy periwinkle to heal many diseases and as it travelled to south Africa, India and the Philippines, more and more of its healing properties were revealed. The herbalists prescribed it for constipation, a toothache, memory loss, malaria and diabetes. Today with the research of western scientists, we know that the rosy periwinkle has anti-cancer healing properties for childhood leukaemia and Hodgkin’s Disease. The plant’s chemicals (Vinca alkaloids) has been used to create the medicines Vincristine and Vinblastine. Finally, the Rosy periwinkle made its way to England with Sir Hans Sloane after his voyage to Jamaica.

Sir Hans Sloane was a trainee physician who went to London in 1679 to study medicine and botany and studied at the Chelsea Physic Garden. In his voyage to Jamaica he was able to bring back thousands of specimens. The voyage and the things he collected along the way created both a fortune and a reputation as a botanist for Sir Hans Sloane. The specimens he brought back can be seen in the British Museum today from the discovery of commodities such as milk chocolate and Peruvian Bark to the number of books, prints, manuscripts and “curiosities” regarding slave artefacts that he collected. After reading about Sir Hans Sloane I find him a bit distasteful, his motivation for his work was of course curiosity and that contributed to making slavery public so that eventually abolitionists could speak out against such atrocities. However, Sir Hans Sloane’s goal was to “make a buck” at the expense of the slaves who he described as a “perverse generation of peoples”. I thank him for his collecting of plant specimens that added to the research of medicinal plants in the Physic Garden but as for the slave artefacts, I do not find his interest in the torture of slaves revolutionary or fascinating.

Finally, this academic experience has inspired me to pursue natural medicine in my graduate studies and to eventually find actual cures for sickness instead of an artificial covering of the problems. Personally, I want to be a doctor, but if it means being like every other doctor that simply gives temporary answers then I could not live with myself. I realize that I am passionate about helping people and I want to give REAL help. There is no point to trying if I don’t go all the way and so I have decided to go to a Naturopathic Medical School. To be honest, I have and was always interested in attacking the source of diseases. I think that God created us from earth; in fact, we are literally on the same wavelength of the earth, therefore, when seeking cures, nature is our medical toolbox and answer to sickness. Metaphorically speaking, I am not interested in giving people glasses to wear for the rest of their lives, I am interested in healing their blindness. I think I have found my purpose in life and I only want to do what makes me happy, something I can be passionate about, not busy work, not boring office work, not feeling like I’m in a prison or exploiting others just so I can make a couple of bucks (like Sir Hans Sloane).

This study abroad experience has taught me a lot about submission to God. Submission means letting God write your story. It means doing what God wants of you regardless of what you want to do. You simply let God lead, no complaints, no questions asked, no negotiations, no compromise, no reasoning and no excuses. What I have learned abroad with personal experiences and with my Brixton church family in London is that there is no compromise with God, commands are not suggestions. If you are a follower of Christ you are a soldier that takes orders from a loving Master and Father. We all have beautiful stories we just have to surrender to Him and stop fighting God on the direction He is leading us. Once you allow God to be your Lord, he will rewrite your story and make it beautiful. I want to walk in my God-given purpose and I am ready to let him lead me. I am ready to say, “how high?” when He tells me to jump. I am ready to walk with the Lord, it’s a much better, more fulfilling story than I could ever write. Studying abroad in London allowed me to experience lessons that God wanted to teach me and for that I am thankful. It is a pleasing feeling to know your purpose and to dig deep within in yourself. I am still answering the question: Who am I? but I think London was a great start. Thank you Arcadia for granting me a scholarship to study abroad. This scholarship was truly a blessing in my life and I am grateful for programs like these that changes lives, one student at a time.

Tiffany D.Tiffany is a student at Providence College and is blogging from her summer abroad with the Arcadia in London Summer program, in London, England.