As of last week, most of the people within my program left, and a whole host of new students arrived in their place. My program does 3,6,9, and 12-week summer study abroad sessions in London, and I’m so grateful to be able to participate in a 6-week study by being funded by FEA. While I’m thoroughly enjoying my time as I’m now comfortable in my setting (I’ve jokingly referred to myself as a local a few times now), I didn’t think about how hard it would be to have to re-introduce myself to people in my program. I focused so much of my preparation and attention on making sure that I can connect with those in London and the UK at large, that I forgot how scary and stressful it can be to do the same with my fellow American students.
The first week here was a bit tough for me, socially. I know that I’m a bubbly person and generally easy to get along with, but I had a hard time truly expressing this in the beginning. Being in a new place on my own and not knowing those around me made me feel like I could only rely on myself, so I retreated into myself for a bit. I was trying to get a feel for these new people while also dealing with my own stressors of settling into London, and so I wasn’t an as active participant in friendships as I usually am. As the days went on, I found myself enjoying my classmates and friend group more and more. We were spending all day together, going from class to post-class adventures around London, seeing all the tourist spots as well as finding local gems. I even went to Scotland with a few of these people, and I was seeing them all day, almost 7 days a week for the first two and a half weeks. We all grew very close and I felt that I could depend on them more because I knew that they were capable people with good heads on their shoulders. Unfortunately, it seemed that just as I was settling into our comforting routine of traveling together and bonding, most of them went away. The same day that the first session group left, the second session group came in, and it was a fairly overwhelming time for me. Now, instead of seeing my friends around our building, I was seeing dozens of new faces with that I had no connection. A few of the friends I made are staying for longer durations, so I knew I could still depend on them luckily. But meeting the new people felt like such a chore, and I was already so familiar with the city and comfortable in my routine that I didn’t want to pursue new relationships at the time. The first few days I was stuck in a limbo between feeling uncomfortable not knowing those around me and trying to just continue on as normal despite so much being different. I was falling back into my shell and felt it happening, but this time I had the tools to change my behavior quickly.
I had to remember just how overwhelmed and scared I was at first and figured they had to be feeling the same way. That is why I decided to put myself out there as a resource for them to use while they got settled. I would invite the new people out to dinner with me, showed them around the area that we live in, and I became the designated guide when it came to navigating the Tube. I was getting to know these people while teaching them about the city I’ve come to love, and it ended up being a very gratifying experience. I understand them a lot more and have come to find out that some of them are actually very enjoyable to be around. They decided to put their trust in me early on and that has led to developing some strong connections so soon into their journey. It’s been such a positive beacon for both sides thus far, and I’m excited to continue to get to know them on a personal level.
I took this opportunity to study abroad to make myself uncomfortable and put myself out there, and I recognize that this applies to the program friends I make here as well. If I can comfortably function in London, one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world, making a few new buddies seems a lot easier in comparison.