Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents A Different Kind Of New

October 8, 2021
By Railyn Diaz, Wharton '22

Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom

Railyn is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing her experience abroad during the Fall 2021 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed. 

I’ve always heard that a semester abroad is filled with newness. New experiences and new challenges. New learnings and new normalcy. Students who studied abroad in non-English speaking countries were usually the ones who told me about this culture shock. As I landed in London Heathrow airport, I considered how this experience would be new for me. 

Almost everyone speaks English in London. And while London is very different from anywhere in the world, I was still moving from one big city to another. Like New York, London is very diverse. The city is bustling. And I could find my favorite foods from just one search on Yelp. 

In search of a transformative movie-like experience, I asked myself, “Where’s the culture shock? Where’s the discomfort? Where’s the feeling of getting lost and finding a way back to sound reasoning? Where’s my...newness?”

Yet, in my fervent search for this deeper meaning, I realized I had been relying on the breadth of my experiences to fill me with a feeling of newness, rather than the pure joy achieved by finding pleasure in everyday conveniences. 

The colorfulness of Notting Hill is a pleasant delight. And the grandeur of a giant ferris wheel in the middle of the city is like no other. Even Big Ben under construction is an unexpected beauty. But these landmarks are not what I remember as I reflect on the past few weeks. Rather, I remember feeling the love a shop owner used to hand-craft a necklace. I remember my blissful naiveness as I crossed the street as if cars didn’t exist, until their loud honks gave me the much-needed reminder. And I remember my giggles as the London skies disproved the predictions of savvy weathermen.

These experiences are everyday occurrences, regardless of where I’m positioned in the world. I can find life’s greatest lessons when I’m exploring coffee shops in lower Manhattan or making the trek from Van Pelt to the High Rises. In the months leading up to my departure for London, I was excited to meet new people and see new places. But I now realize that the simple, seemingly mundane moments of life in London are the ones that taught me how to appreciate joy, discomfort, fear, and perspective.

With this lesson, I’ve decided to enjoy the rest of my time here in London appreciating a simple kind of newness. The newness that doesn’t involve breathtaking scenery. Or good food. Or expensive trips. I hope to find reminders of life’s complexity in a child’s curious eyes. And a taxi driver’s unique stories. And my professor’s passion for his or her research. This kind of newness follows you. It is not dependent on the expansiveness of your travels or experiences; rather, on the extent to which you examine and appreciate every day for all it has to offer. 

I plan to enjoy the beautiful landmarks. And the delicious food. And quality time with friends. But more than anything, I look forward to finding new revelations about myself and my outlook on the world through the seemingly unimportant moments. 

Here’s to a different kind of new. The London way

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.

The Meadows
Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents
by Anna Zhou, SEAS '25