London calling: Reflecting on a spring semester abroad

At this point in the semester, all of us — abroad or not — are forced to evaluate what exactly we’ve accomplished over the past four months. What did we learn? Were our classes a waste of time? Did we have fun? Did we have too much fun? Thinking about where we started is the best way to plan for what’s to come.

Students abroad, however, are faced with somewhat different circumstances. We’re about to complete a semester unlike any other, full of new places and experiences. We took on new cities, new languages, new food and new people. We became more than just tourists. Yet what’s in store for our futures seems more like a step backward since many students abroad still have a year or more left before graduation. All of this new wisdom we’ve acquired might have expanded our worldview, but I’ve started to wonder if any of it will even matter when we get home.

When I think about life back at USC, I think of routine. I do pretty much the same things each week, and none of those things are very unique or exciting. As I’ve begun to contemplate returning to my USC routine after an exciting semester abroad, I realize that I’ve started to create a routine for myself in London, too.

A lot of people see studying abroad as one big vacation filled with nights out and weekend trips. Though it’s true that, compared to USC, going abroad means having a lot more freedom, it also means starting from scratch. Between all the sightseeing and travel, a good amount of time is spent doing mundane tasks such as deciphering maps, figuring out where the grocery store is and getting used to a new school, and by no means is creating a brand new life for yourself easy.

Study abroad advisors warn you about culture shock before you go abroad, and at the time, it seems pretty hilarious. It almost sounds like a made-up problem because it’s hard to believe that anyone could feel anything less than amazing while off exploring the world. But I hate to admit that there came a time, for me anyway, when I felt like living abroad really was more work than it was worth. Of course, that feeling passed pretty quickly, but it goes to show that the reality of adjusting to a completely new environment should not be taken lightly.

I say all of this not to put a damper on the singular experience that is studying abroad but to point out that studying abroad has a purpose beyond just travel. It’s not like going to college as a freshman, where someone holds your hand throughout your first semester, telling you where to go and what to do. Instead, you are thrown into a brand new city to sink or swim, and I can imagine that it’s awfully similar to the real world we’ll all be thrust into post graduation.

When I get home, even though I’ll probably go back to doing the same stuff as before, I’ll know that I can make it in a new place, and that’s a comforting feeling considering I will probably have to at some point in the near future. Memories of visiting far-off lands aren’t the only thing that I’m taking away from this experience. The knowledge that I can live anywhere — away from family, most of my friends and even my country — and manage to keep myself alive is just as valuable, if not more so.

In my first column, I talked about how the decision to study abroad is a personal one and how even though you’re gaining a great experience, you are also inevitably missing out on some things going on at USC. At the time, I still wasn’t quite sure I was ready to disconnect from all my friends and the school I love. So, the big question: Was it worth it? Of course it was, and I’d do it all again — awkward moments included — in a heartbeat.

I’m fairly sure that I’ll still be the enthusiastic Trojan I was in December when I return to school in the fall. But if studying abroad has taught me anything, it’s that no matter where you are, there’s always an adventure to be had. Though it’s time to leave London behind, I know that this Trojan’s next adventure is just around the corner.


Chelsea Stone is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is currently studying abroad at City University London.  Her column, “Traveling Trojan,” ran every other Friday.