Indiana University Overseas Study

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Immune to the Travel Bug

Abbey Hudetz. London, England

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.

Abbey Hudetz - Redefining herself through a global experience

So You Think You Can Be A Londoner

Abbey Hudetz. London, England

I have always believed the term “tourist” held a negative connotation. When traveling, I make a conscious effort to navigate my new surroundings with ease and appear as a local to the untrained eye. As unreasonable and frivolous as this expectation may be—that one can integrate themselves into a new city as soon as they hop off the plane—I have always insisted upon it. Forgoing maps, extensive research into the best ‘local’ gems, and God forbid I ever solicit directions from a stranger. Despite the countless hours I spent poring over articles about trendy up-and-coming restaurants or lost (because I was too spiteful to ask for directions), traveling abroad everyone is inevitably flagged as “the American.”

Yes, my thick Chicago accent and extensive knowledge of junk food does blow my cover, but no amount of off-beat travel guides can prepare you for the cultural differences. Being thrust into the heart of your new home is the only route in which to completely enlighten yourself about another culture. I thought I was faring relatively well my first few weeks in London—living in other cities had prepared me for public transport, harsh Midwestern weather hardened me for the moderate winters, and I was reveling in the chic street style of the natives. I was existing in a bubble of overconfidence, but one ride on the Tube, London’s underground public transport, successfully burst my illusion.

A girl about my age was completely owning her tasteful grunge outfit (a la Kate Moss) and I felt inclined to pay her a compliment—wrong move. The look she gave me conveyed that she was assessing whether I had escaped from a psych ward or taken some bizarre street drugs. First lesson in British culture, people tend to be hesitant to interact with total strangers. Saying “hello” to passerby on the street and striking up conversation is a fairly American tendency. My other, more poignant lesson, was that at some point, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was a foreigner—and that’s not a bad thing.

Since embracing my tourist status, I have learned that as much as I am going to get out of this city, this country, and these people, I have to give as well. London is a global city, and people are enthusiastic to learn about other cultures (well, maybe not on the Tube), and understand their own from an outside perspective.

Sidebar: to the Swedish girl who asked me if my high school experience was “just like movie ‘American Pie’”…not exactly. The best conversations I’ve had thus far have been rooted in comparing and contrasting differing perspectives, norms, and lifestyles. Conversations I would have deprived myself of had I continuously made efforts to blend in. Embracing your own culture and simultaneously appreciating another is not only plausible, but necessary and rewarding. So in short, be the tourist. And probably invest in a map.

Abbey Hudetz - Redefining herself through a global experience

The Trip Before the Plane Ride

Abbey Hudetz. London, England

The thing that people don’t tell you about leaving to go abroad is that once the realization hits that you are going to another country for months on end, you essentially turn into a powder keg of emotions. In less than a week I will be on a flight to London, trying not to look like an idiot while I blow up my travel neck pillow and flip through Skymall magazine to figure out which of my million-dollar ideas I thought I had originally conjured have already been invented. Studying in London and travelling Europe will undoubtedly be the most romantic, existential, and invigorating experience of my life thus far. I harbor no inhibitions about the trip itself, I know it will play a poignant role in my development as a person and my worldview. But when it comes to leaving the people that I love, on some subconscious level, I am not quite sure how to confront my emotions. I am going to break down the roller coaster I have experienced thus far.

Phase 1: Irritability

Let me preface this by saying that I love my family. But this past week, I have been a trip. I know it, too. I was snapping at my brother without valid reason (how dare he ask to borrow my iPhone charger while I’m using it???). Needless to say, I have not exactly been a regular ray of sunshine. My mother tried delicately confronting me about this attitude problem – big mistake. “Oh, you don’t enjoy my company?” I barked back. “You do realize I leave in a week, right?” She explained that my departure was precisely the reason she thought I was showing such uncharacteristic irritability toward the people I care about most. She hypothesized that at a subconscious level, leaving them behind would be much less painful if I left upset with them. I immediately felt like I had been splenetic toward the people that I had meant to cherish my short window of time with. Cue the next phase…

Phase 2: Sentimentality

After those maternal insights, I realized that I had to abandon my immature behavior and face my reality head-on. I was about to leave my family, friends, and the country that I have called home in a few short days. I began to cherish every moment with my loved ones, almost obsessively. When you start to get emotional about clean laundry and leftovers simply because they remind you of home, it may be a red flag that you are somewhat unstable. Needless to say, I found it therapeutic and essential to carve out time for my loved ones. I opted to spend my New Years’ Eve at home rather than in a crowded party with strangers, probably one of the best memories of my break thus far.

Phase 3: Nerves, Nerves, Nerves

I write this phase about an hour before I am supposed to be whisked to the airport. I think I have quadruple-checked for my passport. I am utterly convinced that I have forgotten some essential item to make room for something frivolous, like the five bottles of nail polish that I could not bear to part with. I am a notorious over-packer, but somehow I always seem to leave behind some integral piece of the travel puzzle. I have butterflies that consist of equal parts excitement and panic. I feel as though someone took all of my emotions and threw them into a blender on the high setting. All this adrenaline will make it impossible to find solace in sleep on the plane, but the jet lag will be worth it.

Abbey Hudetz - Redefining herself through a global experience

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