Goals for a Life-Changing Semester Abroad

I have gotten a wide range of responses when I mention I am studying abroad to friends and classmates back home, among them the occasional flippant remark that goes something like this: “Oh, so you’re studying abroad. Is it truly life changing?” Sarcasm aside, why yes – it is. A study abroad program is what you make of it; I could wake up each day and go to class with the same students, eat at the same sandwich shop on Whitcomb Street and grab a drink at a local pub, and I’d technically be living like a Londoner. The problem is, I can get a similar experience back in the States – and I think that’s the reason behind these flippant remarks. It would be easy to fall into a narrow comfort zone and fail to learn what it’s really like to live in London and return convinced I had an authentic cultural experience. But would it truly be life changing?

I view my study abroad program as an opportunity to challenge myself, an opportunity to make mistakes, meet locals, get lost, and maybe even learn to cook (working on it, mom!). That’s why I value the experiences I have already had, that is why I am looking forward to the remainder of my time here, and that is why I am expecting my study abroad experience will indeed be ~life changing~.

Before I get any further, I suppose an introduction is in order – hello! My name is Seth, a junior computer engineering student at the University of Notre Dame. I am a native Minnesotan (you will often find me on cross-country skis come winter) and a proud member of St. Edward’s Hall back on campus. I have been studying in London, England since mid-January, at Notre Dame’s campus near Trafalgar Square. While I am here, I am taking a rather unique set of courses for an engineering student, including a history course (Roman Britain), a theology course (Christianity and Islam), and my favorite, a philosophy course on political and constitutional theory. I had to consider a lot of goals when choosing classes – I chose my two computer science courses to fulfill the goal of, you know, graduating college. But my other classes had a lot more flexibility, and I’d like to think that I have a unique goal for each class.

With that in mind, I’d like to present myself with two non-academic goals for the remainder of my time here:

  • Find three places in London where no one else in my program can say they’ve been. Every weekend, most of the students in my program hop on jets to Berlin, to Amsterdam, to Prague – our 150 or so students can be found in 20 or more cities across Europe on any given weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel – and I’m looking forward to a few international trips of my own – but it would be a wasted opportunity not to see as much of London as possible during these four short months. These three places can be anything, really, but I want them each to reflect something unique about London. So, if you know of a favorite restaurant on the outskirts of London or a hole-in-the-wall comedy club frequented by locals, let me know!
The London Eye
  • Learn about the British political system. Why? Short answer: Brexit. Longer answer: I knew embarrassingly little about British politics or government before arriving in London, and it’s been fascinating to witness such an unprecedented series of events happening in my new backyard. Amendments are proposed and shot down, British political leaders negotiate with European Union officials almost daily. There are protests in Trafalgar Square and rumors of elected leaders stepping down – no, wait, another Brexit referendum – no, wait, an entirely new election? Every day is a whirlwind of major headlines, and as I walk home from class, I’ll often grab a copy of The Evening Standard and try to understand what’s going on (it doesn’t seem like many Londoners know, either!) From an American’s perspective, though, this political uncertainty does have at least one benefit – a better exchange rate!

Parliament of the United Kingdom

I will continue to post through the end of the semester and once upon my return, but for the benefit of those who may feel obligated to read my posts (hello again, mom!), I will wrap up my thoughts for today. I had like to present a question for you to consider, though – what makes an experience truly life changing?

Cheers from London,

~ Seth

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