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Unlike most first-year students, a group of us weren’t obsessing about the usual nervous first-day-of-class jitters. Instead, we were preparing for a journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the United Kingdom, where we would be thrown completely out of our comfort zones to study abroad our very first semester of college.
Our group of 30 students is part of a program called FYSAE, or “First-Year Study Abroad Experience.” During first-year orientation week in Glenside, we did not have to make friends on campus, simply because we were leaving them soon. Yet somehow, after only five days of being on the Glenside campus, I was sad to leave. Not sad because I would not see my friends, family, and home for a few months, but sad because I had met a handful of great people, ones with whom I had explored Center City Philadelphia, ones who cleaned up my eyebrows, and ones who I laughed with at every meal of orientation. Nevertheless, as the clock turned to 4 p.m. on August 31, we loaded our stuff on the coach and said our final goodbyes to those who came to see us off.
I am from a small town on the New Jersey coast called Brigantine. The town can only be accessed one way: over a huge bridge named after the town itself that connects to the north side of Atlantic City. To me and mostly all of my friends, especially during the summer months, Brigantine seems to become its own world, and leaving the island is something hardly anyone does. Realizing that, when I heard about FYSAE, I knew that traveling was my chance to become independent, spread my wings, and try to become something I wouldn’t have been if I stayed in Glenside this semester.
At the airport, my independence was put to the test. While going through customs, checking in baggage, and locating my gate, it finally hit me that I was on my own. My parents were not going to be able to guide me as much as they used to. In the final half hour before our departure, I called my family to let them know I was boarding soon and that I was fully ready to face the next part of my journey.
When I stepped off the plane into a foreign airport amid no familiar faces, the atmosphere was completely different. I felt out of place. For once, I was the tourist, and my accent was the strange one.
On our hour-long ride to the Princess Elizabeth House, our dorm for the semester, I noticed so many differences from things back home. The neighborhoods were styled differently, with a lot more leaves and vines covering them. Each house had its own yard with in a brick fence. Cars looked different— most cars are sedans and compacts, the license plates are smaller, the driver rides on the right side of the car, and the road systems are reversed. “The cars are driving on the wrong side of the road” was the running joke of our group through the first few days.
During our orientation there, we adjusted to the five-hour time difference, made new memories, and explored some of London, including all of the main tourist attractions such as Westminster, Big Ben, and Tower Bridge. Sadly, after orientation, half the group left for their destination, Stirling, Scotland, while the rest of us prepared to meet the other hundred or so students from different colleges who were coming to live with us.
It’s been almost a month since we left Arcadia, and it’s been quite a ride. I have met a lot of new people and have forgotten most of their names. I struggle to keep my room in order and adjust to so much free time. Being part of FYSAE has been an amazing experience so far.
Any must-sees or tips from those of you who’ve studied in the UK? Post your comments. I’d love to hear from you.