Spring semester 2008
After hearing about my sister’s amazing semester studying abroad in France, I knew I had to follow suit. Without much hesitation, I decided on London as my study abroad destination for the spring semester of 2008. Not only do I not speak any other language than English, but it was a dream of mine to see the historic spots where the best literature in the world was written, the Magna Carta was born, and kings and queens lived in magnificent palaces. Studying abroad was the best decision I have ever made, and my life has not been the same since.
While choosing the city was an easy decision, choosing the best program was not. Finally, after months of searching Web sites, reading brochures, and writing several pros and cons lists, I decided to study through AIFS, the American Institute for Foreign Study. It was a bit difficult as it was not a WMU-sponsored program, but I felt the timeline the program offered, and the price was right for me.
The day I left, on January 9, 2008, I was filled with a mixture of terror and wonder. I took a connector flight from Kalamazoo to Detroit, and from there an overnight flight to London’s Gatwick airport. A short nine hours and three on-board movies later, I was in London.
I absolutely could not believe where I was staying. While not so keen on living in a dorm again, I was excited that it was located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, minutes away from Kensington Palace and Hyde Park. My first day walking around, I even discovered I lived in the same block the late T. S. Eliot had lived!
I went into this program blind, which means I went without knowing anyone. I felt like a freshman again on move-in day, but I quickly met friends. Another great thing about the AIFS program is that it takes students from all over America, and even some international students. For example, my roommate was from Turkey, but studied in Chicago. Having grown up in a small town in Michigan, I guess I hadn’t realized how big our own country is! The variety of accents and cultural differences just added that much more to my experience.
After a week of getting settled, classes began at the host institution of Richmond University. I chose to do an internship in my field of study (marketing) and to take two classes as well: advertising management and British culture. The British class really helped me to become more than just a brief visitor in the UK, as we learned about their national identity, as well as the structure of their government, including the royalty succession line.
My internship was amazing! In school I study advertising as well as engineering (imaging) and somehow the coordinators and Richmond University set me up in a position that incorporated all my interests and skills. I worked at a leading product and service innovation consultancy called PDD. I worked in their research department and later in the marketing department. I was surprised they trusted me to help them with their big name customers and important projects. I was also pleasantly surprised not to have the stereotypical internship experience—getting coffee and making copies. I did quality work and I was really proud of the final outcomes. I was so nervous when I started, but after getting my first internship out of the way, I feel confident about how I will handle whatever comes my way in the future.
In my time abroad I also traveled to the four countries that make up the United Kingdom, six other countries, as well as countless day trips throughout England. I got to see Queen Elizabeth II (twice); celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland; meet my favorite actor, Ewan McGregor, fall sick with food poisoning in Prague, Czech Republic, and visit the house of Jane Austen, among so many other things. I met amazing people from all over the world, learned how to think ‘outside of the box’ with a great internship and created memories that will last me a life time. I also learned a lot about myself in the process. I strongly recommend that every student study abroad.