To prepare for my study abroad experience at King’s College London (KCL), I attended several informational meetings held at my home university, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). These meetings were hosted by UNC’s Study Abroad Office, and they are intended to help UNC students prepare for their upcoming term(s) abroad. At a meeting that was held specifically for UNC students planning to study abroad at KCL, I listened to a presentation from a KCL student who was studying abroad at UNC at the time, a UNC student who had previously studied abroad for a semester at KCL, and my study abroad advisor at UNC who helps coordinate the study abroad programs in the UK and Ireland.
I would encourage any students who are going to study abroad to attend any similar meetings that may be held at their home universities because these meetings helped me gather a lot of important information. We talked about how to obtain and use an Oyster card for riding the Tube, the best local grocery stores to shop at, and the most effective ways to manage my money throughout my time in London. These meetings also provided me with guidance about how to submit module request forms for my classes and helped prepare me for several of the key differences between the learning environment at UNC and the learning environment I would encounter at KCL. In addition, these meetings allowed me to connect with the other UNC students who would be studying abroad at KCL during the same semester as me and to ask the students who had already participated in a study abroad program at KCL any questions that I had. The students I spoke with shared their favorite places that they travelled to during their time abroad, the best airlines and train companies to travel with, and their favorite local bars and cafes.
In addition to attending the study abroad meetings at my home university, another important aspect of my preparations for studying abroad at KCL included identifying faculty and staff at both UNC and at KCL who could help me during my time abroad and provide support should I have encountered any difficulties while I was in London. This support network included my study abroad advisor at UNC, several UNC students who had studied abroad at KCL in past semesters, and members of the Global Mobility Office at KCL who are available to help study abroad students throughout their time at KCL. Individuals from the Global Mobility Office at KCL and the Study Abroad Office at UNC helped direct me to resources for specific planning details such as online packing lists that included ideas for essential items to bring and excess items to leave at home, where to get an international SIM card for my phone, and information about how to navigate the KCL housing portal.
One of the most challenging parts of preparing for my study abroad experience was embracing the unknown. After watching videos about KCL housing and move-in day, adapting to life in London, and academics at KCL on the KCL website, hearing from other students who had studied abroad previously at KCL, and listening to the advice I received from my study abroad advisor, I began to develop certain expectations for my study abroad experience. While I definitely encourage any prospective study abroad students to gather as much information as they can about the university at which they plan to study and the region of the world to which they are planning to travel, I would also encourage prospective study abroad students to keep an open mind and try not to get caught up in trying to control every small detail. While each individual’s experience is unique, I found that to make the most of my experience, I needed to accept that I would inevitably be pushed outside of my comfort zone and that many moments of personal growth would come from embracing the nerves and uncertainty I felt. There are a variety of challenges that accompany a semester, year, or even summer term abroad, and it can be difficult to anticipate how you will handle these challenges before you face them. While this can be both nerve-wracking and exciting, I found that throughout my time in London, the experiences that I had not necessarily prepared for, such as taking a spontaneous weekend trip, joining a new society without knowing any of the members, or hopping on the Tube and exploring a new part of the city with friends became some of my favorite memories from my semester in London. So, I would advise any prospective students to take on their best “go-with-the-flow” attitude in preparing to study abroad as it will be easier to adjust when life throws a curve ball.