I desired to study abroad ever since the summer of 2019, when a wide-eyed freshman me arrived at the great University of Texas for orientation.
Among all the sessions for clubs, organizations and societies over those two days, “Devin of the past” felt most intrigued and inspired after talking to a Texas Global representative about the multitude of programs in which he could travel the world while working toward his degree. Flash forward to the day I got to London, and that same person was feeling quite different emotions.
When my plane landed at Heathrow Airport at 6 a.m., I remember visibly shaking. (Most likely, this was 30% due to nervousness, 20% due to excitement, and 50% lack of sleep … but I digress.)
I had traveled before, but I had never left home for such an extended period as I would be this spring. The concept of being without my parents, my brother and my friends for a whole semester was incredibly daunting, and I did not know whether I could handle being alone for so long.
As I hustled to the train station to get to my university, I realized just how strange and tough this experience could be. At the station, I instinctively moved to the right to avoid someone, but they moved the same way, and I ran right into him due to the left-side walking and driving culture here.
I tried to figure out how to get a ticket into the city and found myself stumped by the TFL (Transport for London) system. I realized, too, that I had no idea who I would find waiting for me once I got to the university, no way to figure out the numerous pay-as-you-go plans that I needed for transport, food, laundry, etc., and most of all, no person to lean on as I went through it all.
Once I reached the university, though, my anxieties faded somewhat. Everyone was very welcoming, and I solved most of the problems that popped up. If me from five weeks ago could see me today, he would hardly have worried about anything before arriving.
My time in London has been spectacular, as I’ve seen the sights, immersed myself in the culture, and made a good number of friends to lean on. There is something magical about this city, and through the cold, the rain and the high cost of living, I would not want to study anywhere else.
But the anxieties only faded somewhat, not completely. I was tempted to make this blog post all about the excitement and fun that has resulted from my decision to study in England for the semester, but that would be dishonest.
The stereotype about studying abroad is that it is the time of one’s life. While not untrue, many problems that came up have yet to disappear.
My mental health has sometimes struggled through my time here so far, and homesickness is an obvious but difficult culprit. I miss my brother and parents every day, along with my UT and hometown friends.
Another thing that gets to me is constantly wanting to do more than I physically can. Since I am in a new place with so many new things to do, I am always overwhelmed with opportunities that I don’t want to miss, so I overextend myself and end up losing sleep.
I have started learning to take my time and give myself space, but it is a difficult balance to strike. There is also the ever-present risk of COVID, and here, they do not have a lot of mandates or restrictions in place to protect the public against the virus.
To be clear, the worries have been greatly outweighed by the positives of this experience so far. I am ecstatic to fulfill every one of the expectations and goals that that wide-eyed freshman at UT orientation held for his travels, as long as I continue to remember to take care of my mental health while doing so.
Thank you for reading my thoughts, and make sure to check in a few months from now, when I post again after my adventure comes to a close!
This post was contributed by Devin Geelhoed, a third-year English and Plan II major studying abroad in London, England.