For most, traveling abroad does not mean that one is restricted to their site of study. Exploration of the surrounding countries is an unspoken expectation of any abroad program. Being overseas, the world shrinks once you are in the European Union, nations that once seemed distant and exotic are a forty pound RyanAir flight away.
The temptation of wanderlust is a tenacious one, but for me, pull of exploration has been eclipsed by my fascination with the city of London itself. Not even a month into my program, and I am in the minority of students who haven’t jetted off from Heathrow. Returning to class this past week, the pre-lecture chatter has been monopolized by tales of spontaneous excursions to the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. Meanwhile, I had been rooted in London for the weekend, exploring markets, getting lost in new boroughs, and experimenting with the dense ethnic food scene. I felt my weekend was a jam-packed cultural experience, but I had a nagging feeling that since I had only remained in this city, I was depriving myself. Was traveling not an essential part of the abroad experience?
Late to the game, I am yet to book flights, my travel plans are more rough sketches than concrete agendas. I have a travel budget, I have an open schedule, why do I not have this burning desire to soak up every cultural experience I can possibly be exposed to? After deliberating, I determined that I did not feel like I am missing out—just as those traveling are not missing out in our home base of London. I feel as if I am simply getting to know a singular city more intimately, rather than experiencing a vast range of cultures, and I’m okay with that.
Spoiler alert: there is no “best” way to do a study abroad program and that notion has become blatantly clear this first month in London. Going abroad is abundantly liberating, you are exposed to a new world with your past an ocean away, granted great freedom and autonomy. Most of all, the experience is in your hands. The fact that there is no uniform quota for travels, just as there is no allotment of time that must be spent in the city, breeds such a range of experiences from the students abroad: each individual, tailored, and unique. Eventually, I intend to jet-set around Europe, but until then… I’m pretty sure I haven’t tried every flavor of ice cream in Harrods.