Last week, we published the first installment of Riley Covaleski’s (’16) reflections on her fall semester at Queen Mary University of London. Today, we are pleased to present the second and final installment.
What aspects of the local culture most surprised you? What aspects of your university experience were most surprising?
The aspects of local culture that surprised me most definitely included the selection of food in the grocery stores. From canned macaroni and cheese to everything tikka masala, it was a bit difficult at first to know what I wanted to purchase to eat throughout the week. After a couple weeks, though, I fell into a groove and basically bought the same foods over and over again, only eating out once or twice a week. It was also surprising how much food cost while out to eat because of the exchange rate; I found out soon enough that I should not be eating out three nights a week if I wanted to have enough money to survive the trip.
A surprising element at university was the alcoholic freedom allowed Queen Mary students. The drinking age is 18, but I was still surprised to see beer and wine sold in the campus shop along with an on-campus bar that held nightly parties. This was all fine and dandy except for the late arrivals in our flat from our various flatmates. They were wonderful people and I wouldn’t have wanted to live with anyone else, but that first week was a bit of a doozy for an American just adjusting to British drinking culture and its effects on others. After the first couple weeks, though, my shock dissipated and I accepted things for what they were. To be honest, the parties and inebriated flatmates became less and less as the semester went on and, even if it did happen, I didn’t mind as much.
Riley with the Queen Mum. Sort of.
What advice would you give to an undergraduate considering a study abroad program?
I would most definitely say go for it. If money is a problem, apply for scholarships. If anxiety of leaving home and comfort is a problem, force it to take a backseat. If fear of flying is a problem, tell yourself you’ll watch movies for the entire flight. The point is, no matter what fear or “but” you have about studying abroad, push past it and just do it. I was unsure for the longest time, but all it took was my advisor to tell me “go for it” for me to actually, do it. I don’t regret anything about my experience even if I am slightly poorer than I was before. Some things can’t be helped, like money, but some things like studying abroad are worth much more than any amount of money you could ever possess. Sure, you can go travel to London at some other point in your life, but you’ll never have that experience of studying in one of London’s schools and interacting with London’s students and being one of those students. When I studied abroad, I felt like I was a part of something bigger. I feel like I’ve evolved as a person, become less anxious about trivial things, and learned to enjoy the little things more. When you study abroad, you don’t come back the same person and it’s a wonderful thing.
What is the most significant thing you’ve learned during your experience?
The most significant thing I learned during my experience was that I am capable of many things, leaving the country and visiting four different ones included. I never imagined I could leave home for any amount of time, but my three months abroad definitely proved that false. If nothing else, I learned to have confidence in myself and to just live without trivial doubts getting in the way. I’m almost certain any other study abroad student would agree.
What was your favorite souvenir?
Naturally I bought plenty souvenirs for myself alone, so it is definitely hard to choose just one favorite. So, instead of one, I’ll toss it up between my Buckingham Palace corgi plush (just because it’s hilariously touristy) and my “Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour London” Marauders’ Map mug with heat-activated feet that appear when you add tea or coffee to the mug. The mug is special to me because it is proof that I went to the place my childhood was created, the Warner Bros. Studio in London! The corgi is just because I loved stuffed animals, nothing too special. Those two are definitely my favorite souvenirs.
Thank you so much, Riley, for generously sharing your experiences with us. We’re delighted that you had such a rewarding and perspective-changing experience at Queen Mary—and we’re glad to have you back on campus with us!!!