Where do I even start? This is my experience of when I studied abroad on the outskirts of London, England. Studying in a foreign country wasn’t the only thing to marvel while abroad—the perspectives of people through a historical lens, a food lens, and my friends’ lenses awakened me.
The university I attended was the utmost, culturally diverse sea I’d ever dove into. What accent was I going to hear next? What undertone would I recognize? There were people from all over the world who were lead here for the purpose of education. How cool was it that I was one of these individuals? Now of course, with it being an English school, I was going to meet and get to know British individuals, but because I was on the outskirts of London, I met many who were first generation English. All I could think was, how amazing. Not only was I going to be able to develop an understanding for the British culture, but I was going to get a glimpse into the lives of those who have family from various parts of the world. Being a first-generation Vietnamese-American individual in the United States, it was fun getting to know and understand the several contrasting backgrounds that I was encompassed by! I had forgotten what it was like being a “minority.”
Gosh, the places, the buildings, the beauty! The architectural and design intricacies in the floors, doors, ceilings and walls, pillars and stair-steps…It seemed that every structure was a sculpture in itself. How long did it take to build this? What did they use to pull it altogether? WHY was it created? All of a sudden, I was acquainted with the wonders of our world’s historical lens.
I always knew that food was a language, but while traveling on breaks and long weekends, this was where I was going to get to practice (and well, indulge in) this special language. There is the döner kebap—they’re Turkish, but you could learn to understand them in Germany as well – they add their own touches to the dish. Italy’s espresso and pastries are irreplaceable. Irish beer and Dutch waffles are something to try, and Swiss chocolate…Drool-worthy.
Our North American views are some to share. I, now, have a genuine glimpse of the United States and its influence from the other side. We have our own culture, but we’ve been enriched by a multitude of influences—whether it is the appearance of homes, or the seasonings in our cuisines. It’s funny to see what westernization and globalization entails in the grand scheme of things, because as others adopt and keep up-to-date with the United States and its current events, we have roots that have been planted and watered by the people of the world.
Amidst the new places I had seen or the food I had eaten, were the friends that I made and the community that welcomed me. This was hands-down, the most fruitful, awe-inspiring, humbling and empowering element. The people are the reason I would do it all over again, and what essentially made my experience fulfilling and wholesome. Talking about them can leave me feeling strained sometime, because it’s as if I left part of me there. Maybe a bit dramatic, but it’s true. These individuals became my second family, and knowing that I was going to be leaving them in another country for an unknown amount of time was the hardest thing to come to accept.
By the end, I wasn’t fixated on ‘what else’ there was to experience, or what it was going to look like for this chapter to end. My obsession became the way I was going to embody the appreciation that I had for the people who supported me in going abroad and the understanding that I was able to gain, and mostly, the way I was going to truly justify the magnitude of an impression that people had made on me. I became overwhelmed with the daunting, and almost isolating question of “how was it?” There was no way I was going to be able to pack-up in my suitcase a condensed version of my experience abroad.
And then I came to realize that it didn’t matter how I was going to explain my time away, that the true glorification of the source of my blessings would come out of simply living life. People will come to hear about the detail of it, and how grateful I am to have experienced it as day-to-day living stirs these sweet memories. What am I complaining about anyway? How great (but still annoying) is the burden of not knowing where to start when I am asked, “how was it?”
Oh! And I met my significant other studying abroad in England as well. Which is a story for later.
Thanks for listening to my experience of studying abroad. Be sure to stay tuned for even more personal stories from other students.