From Doubt to Confidence: Freshman Year in London

Today’s post comes from University of California – Berkeley student Ashley McQuade, who spent her first semester of college in London as part of UC Berkeley’s signature Global Edge program. Faced with the choice between starting her college experience on campus and experiencing her first classes abroad, Ashley chose to take the plunge and travel to London for her first semester. 

I initially chose to participate in UC Berkeley’s Global Edge program as a way to explore Europe, but I’ve learned that there is so much more to this program than I first thought. I was a little apprehensive about joining Global Edge, as I thought that I would be missing out on many experiences during my first semester in Berkeley, such as football games, clubs, and especially friends. I was worried that when I came back I would be behind everyone else academically and socially. However, this wasn’t the case. As part of Global Edge, I took summer courses which put me ahead of schedule in university credits, and socially, I have made some amazing friends. These friendships enabled me to overcome some of the challenges that I encountered while studying abroad, such as navigating London, home-sickness, academic stress, you name it.  We overcame so much and supported one another through each challenge. The unique experience of not only studying in London, but it also being our first true semester in university, naturally enhanced the friendships we made, making them strong and long-lasting.

One of the biggest rewards from participating in this program was being able to visit many countries and experience different cultures that wouldn’t be possible at the Berkeley campus. I was able to visit seven different countries in Europe, from as far north as Iceland and as far south as Italy. It was challenging at first to incorporate traveling to these countries with my academic schedule, but I eventually found a balance, such as studying to and from class, on the plane, train etc. However, don’t let me fool you, there were several nights where I was up later than I’d like in order to complete essays or reading for the week, but personally, it was worth it.

Another rewarding aspect of the program was simply living in such an exciting city as London. While in London, I always thought “could I do this at home?” and if the answer was “no,” then I would go out and do it. This allowed me to explore many areas of London. In addition, during our courses, we would visit areas of London and discuss what we saw in class.

My favorite class was the Theater class, which I highly encourage everyone to take. It allowed me to experience London’s highly-acclaimed theaters nearly every Thursday night during the semester. I was able to see plays such as Hamlet, The Seagull, Young Marx, and The Ferryman. Our teacher, Alan Reed, expanded my previously naïve thinking about plays and theater, and educated us about the many components that go into each performance.

I also enjoyed our writing class. We explored places such as the Jewish East End and Brixton to support classroom discussion. The off-site visits made the class more effective. There was a world of knowledge at our fingertips, and the courses at ACCENT helped balance academics and exploration.

The ACCENT team was wonderful. They were always available to help us and genuinely cared about us. Each member was very kind and knew each of us on a first-name basis. They maintained personal relationships with us, and me and the other Global Edge students really appreciated this. During the semester, they scheduled two trips for us: one to Stonehenge and Bath, and the other to Liverpool. They booked tours and even hotel rooms for the trips! I probably wouldn’t have traveled to these places without the ACCENT team, so I’m grateful for what they did for us.

I had a great experience with ACCENT and this study abroad program. I have become more independent and confident emerging from this time abroad. It allowed me to travel to a variety of countries and meet people from different cultures that I wouldn’t be able to do if I had spent my fall semester at the Berkeley campus. For those who participate in the ACCENT and UC Berkeley program: travel more, make long-lasting friendships, and try new food, because when you look back on it, you’ll be glad you did.

~Ashley McQuade, UC Berkeley Global Edge

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