Danielle Pantano - 2016 Program Participant

Student in front of Big Ben in London, England
Tourist day out

What inspired you to go abroad?

Before my semester abroad, I had only been to Canada and the Caribbean. Working with people who live in the U.K at my summer job really made me want to see more of the world. Their stories of traveling were so different to those of my friends in the U.S. Many of them had travelled most of Europe, and even the U.S., by the time they were 18. Hearing all their stories really made me stop and think, why can't I do that?

Why did you choose AIFS?

When I first started looking at programs I looked at AIFS because it was one of the only all-inclusive programs. Having the option to have everything included in the cost really made the process simple and exciting.

What was your favorite part about England?

My favorite part about England, and London in particular, was the liveliness of the city. There was always something to do. There is a quote that I found to be very true while I was over there: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." - Samuel Johnson.

There is something for everyone in London, you just have to walk outside.

What surprised you most about London?

The thing that honestly surprised me most about London was the food. Countless people told me to be prepared; they said that the food lacked flavor and was nothing to get excited about (we are talking actual food here, not the sweets and chocolate, of course). However, I actually really enjoyed the food and it's one of the things I now miss the most about London.

Sunday Roast and English bacon are now two of my favorite foods and I was so excited to have them again when I went back this past Christmas and New Year. There was something about a warm roast on a chilly Sunday and a nice bacon sandwich in the morning after a night out that just made London feel like London to me. I already knew the chocolate and sweets were amazing, but I didn't think that I would ever miss English food!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff on my program truly were amazing. Anderson, the resident director, really was our mom while we were abroad. Any problems we had she handled. Unfortunately I got sick while I was abroad, but the staff set up my appointment and even offered to come with me. I just thought that was truly amazing.

Big Ben at night, London, England
Hello from Big Ben at night

What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

The hardest part about studying abroad for me was leaving my family. Before going abroad, I had never been away from home for more than a month at a time. I am very close with my family and being in another country without them for close to five months seemed near impossible.

Once I got abroad and was settled in, I found that I was so busy with classes and exploring that I actually had to remind myself to check in at home. There were times that I did get a little homesick, but with Facetime and Skype, it was nothing a call home couldn't fix.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

One thing I wish I would have done differently is studied abroad for longer! I wish going back now that I would have done a year abroad instead of just a semester.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

I had most of my classes in the morning. A typical day went something like this:

  • 8 a.m. - Wake up and go for a run in Kensington Gardens
  • 9 a.m. - Breakfast in the cafe
  • 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. - Class
  • 2:30 p.m. - Lunch and a walk around Kensington High Street or visiting a new area of London
  • 6 p.m. - Dinner with friends
  • Evening - Out with friends

What made your experience abroad unique?

I think that already having friends who lived all over England made my experience unique. Not only did I have a support system while I was over there, but I got to visit a good chunk of England because of where my friends lived.

The London Eye, England
Eye love London

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

My favorite thing to do in my free time was explore new places in London. Something my friends and I always did was find new food places in different areas. By the time we left we had a pretty impressive list.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it? 

My accommodation was in the perfect location. While the rooms weren't the nicest, the location more than made up for it. Being in a residential like south Kensington meant that where we were housed was quiet, but we were working walking distance to two tube stations and most of London's sights.

Do you have any packing tips for students headed to London?

Less is more. If you are anything like me, shopping will be irresistible. The fashion is different to a lot of places in the U.S. and I found myself wanting to buy pieces that made me feel like a Londoner. I brought way too much stuff with me, and ended up having to leave loads behind. Be brutal when packing. Also, you will definitely want to bring a raincoat and some sort of waterproof shoe!

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in England?

One thing I wish I would have known before studying abroad in England was about the 16-25 railcards; 16-25 railcards are a great way to get around England for a decent price. I have a lot of friends that live in different parts of England and train tickets added up fast. By the time I had realized I was eligible for one, most of my journeys for the trip were booked. If you want to see a fair bit of England during your time abroad, I would suggest getting one. Anyone between 16-25 is eligible and it saves you 1/3 off of all rail fares, and it's only 30 pounds a year!

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

Being abroad really was the greatest experience for me. It expanded my horizons in so many ways. Before going abroad, I never would have travelled anywhere on my own, but while I was abroad I travelled for 10 days on my own and it was one of my favorite moments. Now that I'm home I have the confidence to not only travel more, but travel alone if there is somewhere I want to see.

Iconic red telephone booth in London, England
London's Calling

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

To me, the biggest benefit of studying abroad is the effect that it has on you as an individual. Not everyone is the same, and studying abroad affects everyone differently, but it does effect everyone in one way or another. For me, it brought me out of my comfort zone and taught me to take everything as it comes and not plan so far ahead.

It also gave me the confidence to travel on my own. Before going abroad I never would have dreamed that I could travel alone. Being in a new place gave me the confidence to go and do it though. I think that no matter what, study abroad has some positive effect on anyone.

Would you recommend AIFS to others? Why?

I would absolutely recommend AIFS to anyone and everyone that is thinking about going abroad. The ability to have everything from tuition to flights included in the tuition really takes the stress out of the process.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Book the optional flight package! While it is a little bit extra, it is worth it, especially if this is your first time abroad. Not only are your flights taken care of for you, but airport transportation is as well.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

If I could study abroad again, I would want to study in Florence, Italy. Both sides of my family come from Italy and the Tuscan region was by far my favorite place I saw, apart from London. I loved the food and the culture that surrounded the area. Everything was so green and the food reminded me of my grandmother's cooking. I would love to do an internship in Florence so that I could spend more time travelling through Italy and seeing firsthand my family's culture and roots.