Elizabeth Bier - 2015 Program Participant

Students walking across Abbey Road in London, England

Abbey Road

Why did you decide to apply for an international program? 

I applied for an international program because I wanted to travel, meet new people and experience a new type of lifestyle. I've been all around the United States and Canada on family vacations, but I wanted to experience the world through the eyes of another culture. Studying abroad exposed me to parts of the world I have never seen before. The idea of moving to other country fascinates me, so studying abroad gave me the chance to immerse myself into another culture and test the waters of what it could be like living permanently in London's culture.

Why did you choose IES Abroad?

I specifically choose to study abroad with IES Abroad because it offered more of an individualized study abroad experience. I purposefully choose IES Abroad instead of a faculty led program with my university because I wanted to ability to travel to other cities and explore on my own, without being on a direct schedule. IES Abroad gave me the freedom to travel on my own and grow independently.

I decided I wanted to go to London mainly because they speak English; since it was my first time going over to Europe, I wanted some aspect of my regular life to be the same. I also chose London because of the many things the city has to offer, such as the history, the sightseeing, and the summer festivities. I knew London had plenty of music festivals and sporting events to attend in the summer months and I couldn't wait to dive into those opportunities.

What was your favorite part about London?

My favorite part about London was the way the city portrayed itself. London truly has something to offer everyone, whether it be the theater or the pubs. London is such a big city with so much history. I loved exploring Big Ben, The London Eye, the cathedrals, the palaces, and the markets. London has so much history wrapped up inside of it. I loved that I felt like I was stepping back in time, while going through the cathedrals and palaces, yet at the same time the city offered a modern twist.

London is such a big city filled with diverse people; it is divided into boroughs and each one has a different ethnic population. I lived in a Turkish area and I loved that I was able to interact with people from several different cultures and experience foods from all sorts of places.

View of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Livin life on the edge - the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

What was the most unique part of your program?

I think the unique part of my program is that we weren't at a local university. We studied at a small center with just American students. I enjoyed being with fellow Americans because we all understood the adjustment to a different lifestyle. It was also a smaller group of people, so I enjoyed that everyone got to hang out in one group and get to know each other pretty well.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

I never really needed to much support from local staff. However, if I ever had a question or concern I felt every comfortable approaching any of the staff members for help.

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

I wish that I would have explored more of hidden local places in London. There's so much to sightsee and I always felt like a tourist. I didn't really get comfortable going out into the city on my own until the end of the program. My own regret is that I kind of held myself back from seeing more of the city and immersing myself into the city like a local. London is such a big place, and while I know I saw plenty of things in my time there, I know I missed a quite a few things.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

I had class Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. so I'd usually wake up a little earlier than I needed to in order to stop by a cafe for coffee and enjoy my morning stroll to class.

After class I usually would head back to the student accommodation for a quick lunch, and then grab a couple of friends and go to a museum, market, shopping center, or some sight seeing place. After a few hours out we'd head back to the dorm for dinner. I won't lie, the walking always wore me out so I squeezed in a quick 30 minute nap most afternoons.

After dinner, I'd do the reading or writing assignments I had for class and then go out to a pub or late night dinner with some friends in the program.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

When I had free time I loved just being able to take the Tube to a further destination in London or the surrounding area. I think my two favorite activities would have to be touring the Chelsea Football Club and spending a day out at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon lawn sign in England

Wimbledon Tennis Tournament

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it? 

I stayed at Nido King's Cross, which is a student accommodation; it was similar to a dorm building. I shared a room and bathroom with one other person. There was a kitchen that was shared by everyone on the floor. I liked the kitchen area for a few reasons, one being that it had air conditioning and the bedrooms didn't so it was nice to escape to the kitchen for a little cool down. Also, since the kitchen was shared with about 30 other people it gave me the chance to meet other people studying abroad at different universities around London.

The absolute best part about the residence hall was the location. King's Cross is one of the biggest Tube stations in London so it was really easy to get around the city. The building is also in good location for walking to a variety of places as well.

What was the hardest part of studying abroad?

I think the hardest part about studying abroad is adjusting to a lifestyle you are not used to. Studying abroad exposes you to people, ideas, and a way of life that you are simply not familiar with. At first I found a new culture to be quite intimidating and overwhelming; however, after getting acclimated, I found this new culture intriguing.

It's difficult not being able to understand why things are the way they are in a certain culture, but you just have to roll with it and learn to live life the way the new culture does for the time you are there.

Although it was one of the hardest things to do, I found having a "go with the flow" attitude to be beneficial.

What surprised you the most about London?

There were quite a few shocking things I discovered in London. One of the most surprising things about London was the lack of public restrooms, or if there happened to be one nearby you had to pay to use it. I still can't get over the fact that you had to pay to enter a bathroom.

Heading to London, I knew it was one of the biggest cities in the world, however, I just never expected to be surrounded by so many people every single second. The people of London are always in a hurry to get to their next destination. The Tube station is always crowded as are the sidewalks. None of that really bothered or surprised me.

What did surprise me was the lack of empathy towards other pedestrians. No one seemed to care if they shoulder bumped you, knocked you over, or stepped on your heels as you walked. As long as they got where they were going on time they didn't seem to mind bumping into strangers along the way. I guess if you're from a big city this might seem normal to you, however, being from a small midwestern town, I was alarmed by the hustle and bustle of the city walkers.

View of British Parliament and Big Ben from the London Eye

View of Parliament and Big Ben from the London Eye

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

Yes, I would suggest packing a few extra jackets or sweaters. I assumed for the summer months it would be a bit warmer. However, even on days that the temperature would reach the mid to high 70s, the sun was never out and it was windy so it could be a bit chilly. In my student accommodation there was a laundry room, so if you're staying at a place that offers a wash room I would suggest packing light because it will make traveling easier on you!

Now that you're home, how would you say studying abroad has impacted your life?

The IES Abroad program has impacted my life in the way I manage my time. Being in London, I constantly kept myself busy because there was so much I wanted to see and I knew I had a limited time. Now that I'm home I find myself looking for tons of things to do to keep myself busy because I grew so used to walking miles a day and seeing so much.

I think that studying abroad has also made a huge impact on my life in terms of interactions with others. As cliche as it is, I did grow in self confidence. Being abroad forced me to interact with so many other people, and because of that I feel much more confident when approaching new people and situations.

Being abroad opened my eyes to what life is like for other people across the world. I wouldn't say that I was a close minded person before by any means, however, because I'd never been outside North America for an extended period of time I had no idea what to expect. I'm so much more aware of global issues and politics; since I studied abroad in Europe, we often discussed political happenings within the European Union. I appreciated learning how different and similar governments were compared to the United States. I can't put it into words exactly the way I'd like to, but I just have this new found appreciation for other cultures outside of the common and overly comforting American culture that I've known my whole life.

Would you recommend IES Abroad to other students?

Yes, absolutely! IES Abroad gave me one of the best summers of my life and I'm so glad I had the chance to study abroad, explore new places, and meet some amazing people along the way.