My family is getting tired of my sentimental trips down memory lane as we watch the summer Olympics taking place in the great city of London. My musings for this blog are about more than relating pub crawls along the Thames, pictures with the Beefeaters at the Tower of London, the frenetic pace of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, being spiritually fulfilled at one of the many museums and art galleries, the mass exodus from buildings when the sun peeks out from the everyday gray sky, or the required silence when riding London’s subway system known as the Tube. My love affair with London began with a decision to try a studies abroad program. After the experience, I believe strongly that every college student should get out of the country and study abroad.
My childhood was spent in rural Idaho. To say that I lived a sheltered life would be an understatement. It is very difficult to be worldly when you’re surrounded by fields, cattle, mines and people of varying degrees of redneck. I went to college and by the time I was a junior at Boise State University, I was ready for more independence, more knowledge about other cultures, religions and histories. Because I’m not as brave as I pretend to be, I recruited my friend Bert, an Eskimo from Bethel, Alaska to go with me.
Planning was easy. Granted, my adventure was almost twenty years ago (wow that’s painful to admit), but I’m assuming that many things are the same. First, all schools have a studies abroad program of some kind. Boise State was in a consortium with other Northwest Schools. There was a program catered to us Yanks in London.
Like most powerful educational experiences, it began with curiosity. We didn’t have to choose London. There are many places all over the world to choose from, but I am of English heritage and I was an English major. My laidback friend Bert was up for any kind of adventure, so London was our choice.
The tuition and materials cost the same as they did in our home schools. The expense was our travel. Bert and I decided to travel the UK on weekends and, after the semester was over, travel Europe for a month. Because of the cost of traveling and the lack of income from a part time job at Sherwin Williams, I took out my first and only student loan. It was not a big loan and I easily repaid it a few years after graduation. The point is, anyone can do this.
What I learned about myself and my world is beyond measure. You can’t learn things like I did through a computer or television. Travelers, like writers, believe in the power of setting. Before my studies abroad program in London and my trip through Europe, my setting had always been conservative small town Idaho. I absolutely had to leave that environment and the people insulating me in order to gain perspective of the world and myself. You cannot put a price on that kind of education.
If you are a college age student, or the parent of one, I cannot recommend a studies abroad experience enough. And, the added bonus is that you can become the knowledgeable, or annoying depending on perspective, person who can say while you watch the Olympics, movies, television or while surfing the internet, “I’ve been there.”