April You is a UC Berkeley freshman with a different point of view. Despite successfully completing her inaugural college semester, she hasn’t yet taken a class at Cal and she is yet to join her classmates in whiling away her afternoons on Berkeley’s memorial glade soaking up the famous California rays. Instead, April opted to study abroad in London as part of the inaugural UC Berkeley Global Edge program. In London, she spent her first semester navigating a new cultural environment, as well as negotiating the intimidating hustle and bustle of this mega-city. As you’ll see, she and her fellow Global Edge classmates have blazed a trail for future Berkeley students to do the same.
In this week’s Student Feature, April recounts her experience and offers some sound advice for Berkeley freshmen looking to spend a semester abroad.
I wasn’t sure how to begin this blog post. Not to be cliché, but how can you sum up an entire semester in one post? And it wasn’t just any semester abroad either; it was my first semester in college. But I guess honesty is the best way to go, and to be honest, initially, I wasn’t so sure about this program. I knew I was going to miss a lot of opportunities by not spending the fall semester of my freshman year on my home campus. I’d miss the homecoming football game against Stanford and the clubs during club rush, but then again, there was London. I’d always wanted to go abroad to Europe, and right on the doorsteps of my very first year was the opportunity to do so. Was I ever going to get the chance again? Probably not like this.
It turns out I was right. London was – is – an incredible place, and being there on a time crunch pushed me to go out and really immerse myself in the city and explore. Exploration in London was accessible too. In the desert suburbs of Southern California where I come from, there isn’t much in the way of public transportation, and I can’t do much without a car there. In London, I didn’t need a car; the Tube was all I needed to get out and wander around the city. In fact, I’ve been on the Tube so many times that I’ve memorized the automated voices and scripts of the main stations. Besides its convenience, the best thing about it was that I got to see all sorts of people who lived in, or were visiting, London. Just recently, I saw a bunch of people dressed in elf costumes caroling. Another time I saw a professor who was madly grading papers on the Tube and it made me giggle to think that that could have been one of my own professors. There is also a certain sort of pride, I think, us foreigners feel when we get the Tube system down pat.
I think one of my favorite things about London, besides its beautifully crisp weather (and no, that is not sarcasm!), is that the city molds to your individual persona. There is something for everyone here. Are you someone who loves quirky museums? Not only are most museums free, but there is a HUGE variety of them, including a museum of dismembered preserved body parts! Do you think you’ll miss the ocean? Well, the Thames comes pretty darn close. When the tide is low, you can walk along its sandy banks, and there are even seagulls! There was never a moment in London when I was bored.
Of course, then there are the classes. This is what everyone really wants to know about. “Were they hard? Was there a lot of homework? How did you manage to juggle it all?” There is no magical formula for how one juggles exploring and studying. Some people have great time management skills, others (ahem) do not. You have to really prioritize what you think is important, and sometimes, it’s not studying. That was one of the biggest lessons I learned abroad: in the end, you have to decide what means the most to you and go with it.
Yes, I am being a teensy bit overdramatic here. The classes I took in London gave me tons of “excuses” to go out and really see London in all its different colors. Take my English class, for example. For one of my papers, I ventured out to a graffiti tunnel, and for another I went to a market in a gentrified part of town. These places were not picked for me by the professor, but places I sought out myself because I was inspired by the assignment. Even if I had been inspired enough to seek them out on my own time, I would not have been able to learn about these places in such depth had the experience not been supplemented in class. Take my theater class as another example; I was able to watch so many awesome plays, which I wouldn’t have had the chance to watch if I had not been in that class. I could go on and on. These classes enabled to me to explore London through a new lens and gave such incredible meaning and depth to my time there.
The cherry on top was my Global Edge and ACCENT families. We had been together since the summer and being together in the fall as flat mates made us even closer. The memories I’ve made with my flat mates and the other Global Edge participants are something I will cherish forever.
However, for the sake of future Global Edge participants, I will be honest: living in a flat with three, four, or five other people, even people you’ve been with for a few months, can and will be difficult at times. Despite the challenges you’ll face, you will manage to survive, and you’ll find that in the end, you’ll become closer with your flat mates than you were before. The experience will help you grow.
This whole “growing” business isn’t something that comes from just living with other people. No, it also has to do with the fact that you are living on your own for the first time, and in another country to boot. You will become more independent and you will learn more than you ever learned in your entire life. You won’t be the same person you were six months ago. That is the beauty of a study abroad program, especially one during your freshman year. What better time to grow than at the beginning of your college career? The even more beautiful part is that you won’t be in it alone. There are so many people to help you out when you need it, like the people at ACCENT, and there are also your fellow Global Edge participants.
I’ve asked several of my fellow Global Edge friends whether, if they had the choice, they would do this whole program all over again? The answers vary, but the one thing everyone is unanimous on is that they have no regrets. As for me? Well, if you’ve read this post though to the end, I think it should be pretty clear: I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world…and trust me, I’ve been all over!
April hails from Fontana, California and is planning to major in Classics with a minor in Education. In the future, April wants to work with children.
~Harry Isitt – ACCENT London