I went on my Cross-Cultural Experience (CCE) in July of 2016 and chose London England as my destination. The reason I chose London was that many tv shows I watched were based there and my grandparents used to live in the city, so it seemed like a natural choice. I had never thought of myself as a real big city person, so I was surprised when I instantly fell in love with a city that houses over 8 million people. I mean, who wouldn't fall in love with that view?
It didn't help that I'm completely directionally challenged. The main reason I was nervous to go abroad by myself was not only that I didn't really know anyone but that I wouldn't know how to get around. Navigating Heathrow airport (the second busiest airport in the world) was a daunting right off the bat, and then I had to figure out public transportation. Thank goodness for kind strangers who help Americans and for the "Tube Map" app or I would've been turned around on the London Underground more times than anyone could imagine.
At first, as an American who has never used public transportation in her life, minus the one time I took a train from Milwaukee to Chicago, I hated the tube (underground train). Then, as I got the hang of it, I really came to love it. It was so convenient to get pretty much anywhere in the city within the half hour. It made for some pretty great field trips with some fellow classmates, which you can see pictures from below.
The class I was taking was through the University of Westminster called "The Power of Brands". It met for about four hours a day, Monday through Thursday, with the only homework being what we had to do for our final project which was a complete brand audit. I won't go into too much detail about what that is, but it really was a very fun and informative class. The project was a group project, and all of the other students in my class were also studying abroad. There were some from different parts of the States and also a few from Australia. I really loved the way this class was done. We were taught in class, expected to ask the professor if we had questions, there was hardly any outside homework, and our final grade was based on the final project only. This is how almost all classes are done in European countries, and if you're organized and productive like I generally try to be, I found this method much more favorable than getting hours of homework every night. This class format gave me a lot of insight on how it would be in the working world and gave me a good understanding of time management and also inspired my love of branding and seeing it as a possible career option.
The dorm I was staying in was the University of Westminster's Marylebone Hall on Marylebone Road, which if you look at a map, is very close to some major streets. So for some trips, we didn't even have to take the tube. So many things were within very reasonable walking distance. Even if things were a little far, if it was nice out, we would walk anyway. Some days, I was even averaging 20,000 steps on my Fitbit which is about 10 miles of walking. Here are some of the places we walked to from our dorm.
Now, the weather in London was something to get used to. You have to bring an umbrella with you at all times. The strange thing was that for three straight days the sun was shining, it was warm, and there was not a rain cloud in sight. The locals said it was the best streak of weather and one of the warmest Summers they'd had in years. Even when it was cloudy, that didn't stop anyone from getting out and about and enjoying the sights.
London was awesome, but another great part about being in Europe was how close everything was. Granted, above ground transportation takes forever when you're leaving the central part of London, but you can just pop on over to Stonehenge for a day if you want (and we did). There were so many cool places around the area that we got to see, especially when weekends rolled around and we had more time. Below are some places my new friends and I got to explore.
This whole experience still impacts me to day because I learned so much that I otherwise wouldn't have learned had I not studied abroad and ventured out on my own. In class, I learned how to do a brand audit. Outside of class, I learned that Australians eat donuts as dessert, how to decipher a really deep British accent, navigate public transportation, and how to make friends from all over the world. Some of them I still keep in contact with. Most importantly, I learned that I can be more adventurous, brave, and independent than I had previously thought, and that I really really love London.