How My Year Abroad Became 22 (And Counting)

by Michael Kahn

One of the main reasons I chose to attend Connecticut College was because of its study abroad programs. With fewer than 2,000 undergraduate students, Connecticut College is a relatively small school by U.S. standards, and actively encourages its undergrads to take their junior year abroad in order to see the world and broaden their horizons.

Earl's Court tube station is a London Underground

Earl's Court tube station, London Underground

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and was the features editor of the college newspaper and editor-in-chief of its literary magazine. So, when the time came to choose a study abroad program, I gravitated toward programs focusing on journalism and media.

Although programs in places like Spain and Italy were tempting, and a great opportunity to learn a new language, I opted for a study abroad program hosted by Boston University in London. It was a comparative media course that encouraged us to compare and contrast the U.S. and U.K. media over the course of several different modules.

From the moment I arrived, I knew I had made the right choice. There were nearly 200 students on my program from all over the U.S. — and the majority shared my interest in media and journalism, making it easy to form fast friendships. However, though we share a common language with Britain, the cultural differences were apparent right from the start.

From the stereotypical (polite, reserved, tea-drinking women of a certain age) to the less well-known characters (sports-crazy, tattooed drinkers) — London was certainly an eye opener. Yes, the weather was a little dreary. Yes, the food was a little suspect at times. And yes, it was eye-wateringly expensive. And I loved every second of it.

My professors were straight out of Central Casting. Very “proper.” Very “British.” Not many sports-crazy tattooed drinkers here. And the course itself was fascinating; I learned loads about the commercial, political, and cultural differences between U.S. and U.K. journalism.

Along with the classes, I had an internship, another reason for choosing this program. At the start, it didn’t have much to do with journalism. In my role working with a TV and film production company, I read and summarized scripts that came in, and gave the senior editors the ones I thought had potential. Looking back, it was an incredible amount of responsibility for a 20-year old, and I hope I didn’t leave any great scripts on the cutting-room floor. That thought has haunted me over the years, but I did the best I could at the time!

Big Ben, London

Big Ben, London

Again, the cast of characters at my version of “The Office” were amazing — with names like Nigel and Giles and Hugo and Julian — very welcoming and friendly, but also very smart and professional and talented. I loved my time there and learned a ton about British TV and film.

By the end of my year in London, I honestly didn’t want to leave. As much as I was looking forward to getting back to school and seeing my family and friends in the U.S., London had captured my heart. Even as my senior year at Connecticut College began to gather momentum, my mind would drift back to smoky pubs, fish and chips, light drizzle, chilly classrooms, and the wonderful accents that made my professors sound even smarter than they were.

As my senior year drew to a close, I somehow convinced my parents to let me return — just for some “time off” before getting a job and settling down. I had made local friends in London, not to mention my colleagues from my internship. I don’t honestly know why, but my parents agreed — so, just two days after my college graduation, I was back in London.

Now, for anyone who is considering a year abroad, this is where it gets interesting. I did meet up with some friends there, found part-time work, and managed to connect with some ex-colleagues. While I was regaling them with my adventures as the only American waiter in the Harrods’ restaurant (yes, really), someone mentioned she knew a PR agency looking for freelance writers, and that I should “go for it.”

And I did. I ended up working there for nearly 15 years, happily collecting other clients (mainly PR agencies, but also a scattering of magazines and newspapers) along the way, simply by word of mouth. In 1996 I bought my first London flat and in 2002, bought an apartment in Florida to have a base near my family in the U.S. Three years later, I bought a 12th-century chapel that had been converted into a stunning house, down near the coast in the south of France. And that is where I am right now, typing this, although I tend to share between all three places these days, depending on work commitments and (more often) what the weather is like in each.

So, to say that my year abroad changed my life would be an understatement. Life is a total adventure now — professionally, socially, and it all started with a 747’s wheels screeching on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport in 1991.

Apart from the amazing friends I’ve made, the business relationships I’ve fostered, and the countries I have explored since then, the single best thing about traveling abroad was the startling realization that life really is what you make of it — and you only get one chance to live it. So go ahead and see everything you can see, do everything you can do, and don’t waste a second of it.