Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Synthesizing a Semester

January 10, 2022
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. 

“How was your time abroad?”

This question has maneuvered itself into every conversation I’ve had since arriving back to the States. And while I’ve conditioned myself to say “great,” followed by a series of memories that I can easily recall, it’s hard to fit all these past experiences into a tell me about yourself format. Thankfully, I have the next few paragraphs to unravel the main lesson that studying in London gave me: how to let go.

We’ve all seen the scenic video of our favorite Youtuber’s time abroad – the upbeat background music, one-second snippets of clearwater beaches, and frequent airport vlogs. See, I too wanted this dreamy abroad experience. My sister had studied abroad in Australia and came home with pictures of herself swimming with dolphins and snuggling koala bears. I thought that certainly, this extraordinary, resort-like experience is what abroad is all about. That’s why I initially signed up to study in Australia.

And then that was cancelled (covid). So next on the list was Singapore. Also cancelled. So that left me with…London! Sure, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I thought: “Why not just travel to warmer parts of Europe? Or spend every weekend traveling to rural parts of the UK?” I wanted to make my time abroad look like what I expected it to be, rather than allowing London to show me something new.

After quickly realizing that London is so much more than British accents and red telephone booths, I decided to enjoy my time to the fullest. I visited the same neighborhoods over and over again, experiencing them differently each time. I took pictures of everything. I walked away with new slang (but no accent, sadly). I sometimes spent all day in my bedroom. And then I’d go and chat with my flatmates all night. I stressed about school a bit, recruited for full-time roles on eastern time, and tried lots of new foods. I felt all the feels – joy, excitement, fear, discomfort. And in the midst of all of this, I didn’t pre-plan what every moment would consist of. I allowed London and the university campus to create a unique, unexpected experience that was meant for me, independent of what I thought it would be.

By the end of the trip, I learned to allow the passage of time to reveal the beauty found in spontaneity. While I wasn’t going home with the exotic photo ops that I wanted, I left the trip with more independence, courage, and excitement for life’s many adventures and lessons.

If there’s anything that I say about abroad when I’m asked about it, it’s that I had an amazing time doing the most normal things, like eating out and walking around. I’ll visit Singapore and Australia one day. In the meantime, I’m glad that I practiced letting go in London, gaining lessons that will last a lifetime.

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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.