A little over a year ago today, I touched down in London to start my junior year fall semester at University College London (UCL). This was a direct exchange program, so I took classes and lived alongside normal university students. What I didn’t realize until I got to London was that, in strange ways, my study abroad experience would feel like freshman year all over again. My dorm consisted of freshers (what English people call first year students) and study abroad students.
When I got to my dorm from the airport, I groggily made my way to the dorm’s dining hall to get food. It was so strange walking into a lunchroom setting again and having to find a place to sit in a sea of unfamiliar faces. Particularly in the first few days, everybody was so eager to meet new people; I relived that freshman year experience of meeting a million new people in passing at various new student events. At times, this was exhausting, but I also ended making a lot of great friends from all around the world during my term abroad.
In classic freshman style, I went a little overboard at the club fair for the university. However, it was so refreshing to be able to try out so many different clubs while abroad and try out random activities that seemed interesting to me. For example, I participated in my first coding hackathon with the Tech Society, I attended dodgeball, rowing, and badminton practices, and I learned how to juggle with the Circus Society. However, I ended up being most active in Running Club. I absolutely loved running through London with the group -- we often ran to Regent’s Park, a sprawling, famous park right by campus. One night, there was an all-girls running event, in which we ran around the city covered in face paint and blasting music. Another one of my many favorite memories from study abroad was the club’s Christmas Dinner at the end of the semester -- everybody wore their most festive Christmas “jumpers” (aka ugly Christmas sweaters), and we had 3-course meals at a local pub while enjoying each other’s company and breaking open Christmas crackers.
Overall, I think it becomes natural past freshman year for people to get comfortable in a routine and with a certain group of people - and not branch out past that. For me, studying abroad reignited that fresher-like hunger to meet new people and to seek out new experiences that can be lost in the day-to-day college grind.