Photograph by Zoe Jennings

Looking back on unlikely connections abroad

By Zoe Jennings

When I landed in London last January I felt like I might throw up. This was thanks to a combination of a lack of sleep, motion-sickness-inducing turbulence during the 11 hour flight, and a general stomach-rumbling unease with being shoved into uncharted social territory: the Study Abroad Program. I had left the comfort and safety of my home in California and suddenly found myself standing in a very crowded Heathrow Airport waiting for a bus to take me to my new home.

In the London Music program, 18 of us lived together in a flat for the semester, sharing a large common area and about seven small bedrooms with connected bathrooms. As a natural introvert, I had to adapt to an environment where I was constantly surrounded by new people. I was approximately 5,000 miles away and eight hours ahead of everyone I loved and felt comfortable around.

While it is called the London “Music” program, we studied a broader sample of the arts, including theater and art history, and our classes were taught by local professors. The group was made up of a broad spectrum of majors—music, math, various sciences, art and art history, theatre and English—and we all had to get along. Instead of hiding in my shared room all the time, I forced myself to hang out in the common area and deepen my relationships with the people I was living with. We got used to each other’s habits and made new ones together, like watching Chopped or iZombie as a group or hosting wine nights.

Every week our group would go on outings for our classes to experience what we were learning about first hand, attending at least one play and one concert together for our theater and music history classes. Our art class took place in a museum (most often the Tate Modern). I saw a total of 36 plays while I was there, in and out of class. One of our group’s favorites was a production of Julius Caesar in which the audience participated in an arena-like setup during the play. We stood for the entire three hours on the floor of the “arena” and were ushered around it as the actors performed around us, sometimes on the ground, sometimes on raised platforms that acted as the stage. It was the most engaging portrayal of Shakespeare I have ever seen. This more experiential learning style was new to many of us, but helped make the material more accessible than in a normal classroom setting like most schools in the US.

I ended up feeling like a part of a real community by the end of the program. When you live with so many people and spend so much time with them, it’s hard not to feel a special connection with them. We helped keep each other sane in the high-stress environment of living in a foreign country, away from our usual support systems and routines. And while it might have been an atypical living and studying situation for abroad programs—no host family, a familiar language, classes with only people from our school—we all learned a lot about ourselves and British culture. As we settle back into our old ways at Lewis & Clark, I can look back fondly on our time together and appreciate the deep connections I made with people I wouldn’t otherwise know. I have also made it my mission to bore my old friends with how often I start a sentence with, “When I was in London…”  

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