Semester Abroad Q&A with Sam Roth, Wharton '20

July 2, 2020
By Madison Jones, Penn Abroad Leader, SEAS ‘21

Sam Roth, a Wharton Class of 2020 graduate spent a semester abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). We sat down with him to learn more about what it’s like living and studying in the center of London.

How did you go about choosing your particular abroad program, and why did you ultimately choose to go there?
The LSE program was brand new at that time. In the middle of my sophomore year, Wharton posted that they were going to have some sort of program, but didn't really give any details. So, I kept reaching out to my advisor because I'd never been to Europe before and I thought London would be an amazing place to start. I found out more about the program in June, and I had only about a week to apply, so I scrambled to put it all together. After I got in I was super excited, and I chose LSE for a few reasons.  First, LSE has an amazing reputation around the world for Economics and business.  Second, language-wise, I speak Hebrew, a little bit of Chinese, and English, which kind of limits where I could go. I figured London would be the perfect home base for traveling throughout Europe and getting exposure to new places and new cultures. 

You chose to live in an apartment in Central London. Why did you choose an apartment vs. living in a college dorm? What were the pros and cons?
So my program is unique in that they did not offer us a dorm. From day one, we were on our own to find a place to live. I had two close friends going to UCL (University College London), which is pretty close to LSE, so we talked about living together and ultimately found a place right in the middle of the two campuses, which was perfect. It was reasonably priced and very central to get anywhere in London. I liked not living in the dorm because I felt like we were more immersed in the city. The nice thing about a dorm is that you're around other students, but living in a real flat surrounded by an active neighborhood felt like we were more a part of the city.

How did you meet new people while abroad? Were you involved in anything on campus?
I wanted to be careful about how much I got involved in, because at Penn I definitely overextended myself, and I recognized that one of the benefits of studying abroad was saving time to explore.  I got involved in two main things. The first was the Jewish society. We had weekly “Lunch & Learns,” and I got to know the other Jewish students from across Europe and the world. I also played for the LSE basketball team. We played games once a week and practiced once a week, and I got to know the guys from that which was a really fun experience.

What kind of free activities did you find around London?
I loved just walking places. I often found myself taking a bus to a random neighborhood just to wander. I mean the bus isn’t free, but wandering around is. I really loved doing that, just getting a feel for different parts of the city. There are a lot of good student deals at some places - I got a student ID card (TOTUM card) that gave me 50% off at restaurants and things like that which definitely helped me stay within my budget while in such an expensive city.

What surprised you most about learning at LSE?
LSE, and the European academic system, is very restrictive in the breadth of courses students are allowed to take. If you’re part of the Economics major, for example, you can only take economics-based classes for your entire three years. I was part of the Management Exchange, so I was only allowed to take management and business classes. It was a little frustrating because I had to count a lot of my abroad classes as “unrestricted electives” in order to get Penn credit. I didn’t necessarily want to spend my unrestricted electives taking more business classes.

Did you have any travel mishaps?
I did. I have a pretty scary story actually. For my first weekend trip with friends, we went to Stockholm, Sweden. That was already a bad idea because in January it’s really cold there. All my friends left on Friday and I flew out Saturday morning because I had classes all day Friday. I was on the escalator at Gatwick Airport, on the way from the train up to the terminal. I was standing there, and as we got to the top of the escalator, I noticed the tip of my boot was caught in the escalator. So I freak out trying to pull my foot out and it wouldn’t come out. We got to the top, and a lot of people behind me were upset that it stopped but I had other things to worry about; how was I going to get my foot out? Eventually, I was able to pull my foot out of the boot (it missed my toes by less than an inch. I’m lucky I have my toes. We were eventually, after about 30 minutes, about to tug the boot out, destroying it in the process. Going to Sweden in January, I didn't think to really bring other shoes, besides those heavy boots. So I end up getting to Stockholm, where it’s five degrees outside, with half a boot. At least I made my flight. When I got there, I'm walking to meet my friends at a restaurant, and my phone shuts off because it’s too cold. Now I’m asking random Swedish people where this restaurant is, and somehow navigate my way across this new foreign city after ducking into an Apple store to locate it on Google maps. When I finally got to my friends I said to my friends “you don’t know how happy I am to see you.”

Do you feel like abroad “changed you”? What did you learn about yourself?
I think the biggest thing I learned about myself is that I like spontaneity within boundaries. I like knowing that there's some structure, for example “in two days I have to be in this city for a flight.” But until then, there needs to be free time. I like taking a bus to a neighborhood knowing that for the next two hours I can do whatever I want. So I think I really like having the structure as a whole but also building in time to explore within that. On a small scale, that would be a single afternoon in a neighborhood, and then on a large scale, it would be something like the 10-day backpacking trip I took by myself. I went through England, Scotland, and Wales, with very little planned along the way. I knew I had to be somewhat organized because there were some tours that needed to be booked, but until then, if I was interested in something, there was no reason to move on, and if not, I’d leave. 

Rapid-Fire Questions

What are three words you would use to describe your study abroad experience?
Independent, exploratory, and exciting. 

What was the most touristy thing that you did?
When my family came to visit in London, we had high tea. 

What new foods did you try? 
In Sweden, I had a lot of new foods. Pickled herring and reindeer to name a few.  I also tried Hungarian goulash in Budapest, which is like a beef stew.

What was the most essential item that you packed?
I have a mini Jewish prayer book that I kept with me everywhere. 

What was your favorite place that you traveled to?
Everything was so different. I really like Budapest for the recent history and overall feeling, but also the South of France for just how beautiful it was.

Were there any unexpected expenses that you encountered?
I ended up cooking a lot more often because eating out in London is so expensive, and I keep Kosher. Learning how to cook is definitely something I picked up while abroad.

What are some souvenirs that you brought back?
I wanted to collect something cheap that didn't take up a lot of space and would be a cool reminder of when I was there. I started buying a newspaper from every place that I went to. In a lot of cities, you get newspapers for free, or for super cheap. And it had the date that I was in the country, and I would scribble down what I did while in that country. 

And where are you going next?
The two places on my bucket list right now are Eastern Europe and South America. 

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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.