By Miranda Wilder
I got to London on Aug. 27, 2014. My best friend died five days later. I’m not saying this to be morbid, I’m letting you know that I was a 20-year-old escapist with a knack for self-destruction when the worst thing, the single-most unbearable event in my life happened. But I was studying abroad, and that was something even death couldn’t put a damper on.
First of all, you’re never going to have the chance to live in the middle of the most expensive part of a city (or the countryside, wherever it is you choose to go–I know UNH has programs in Italy, Budapest, probably loads of others), and not have any other expenses to worry about aside from, well, let’s be blunt: booze. But even Regent’s University picked up the tab on occasion.
Despite booze and whatever other high-cost habits and hobbies you might have, you can be the poorest person in the world in London and still manage to find yourself drunk on any given day of the week. Maybe drinking’s not your thing, but it doesn’t need to be. Turns out life is beautiful sober or wasted, five, six, 12 hours ahead, depending on what time zone you end up in.
I don’t really know how I did it, but I only spent $2,500 in the four months I lived in Regent’s Park (the queen’s backyard, literally). I learned a lot about myself and the city while I was abroad. I’m not sure which of the two I became more familiar with by the time I was sprawled across two airplane seats flying home, somehow both emptier and fuller than when I had left.
A lot of my fellow study-abroads traveled, some almost every weekend. Flying is cheap, and Megabus exists in Europe: a bus that will take you across channels and oceans and to basically anywhere for the same price it costs to get from UNH to New York City.
And don’t get me wrong; I did travel a bit. I went to Ireland and Amsterdam and around the UK, and I still only spent $2,500. Museums and therapy are free, sneaking onto the tube is easy, and the combination of walking and the horrible quality of English food keeps you nice and fit (there are some killer markets, but I guarantee if you study anywhere else, the food will actually be edible).
But really, I chose to immerse myself in the city, a culture so parallel to our own that if you don’t squint a little bit, and pay attention on those early morning treks home from the club, you won’t notice the slightest differences that make you a Yank. We speak the same language, but they don’t pronounce hard R’s, racism takes on a whole different form, newspapers are much more blunt about their political stances (they call republicans ‘Tories’), cops don’t carry guns and not everywhere you go will be an English-speaking country.
I lost my phone about a month in, and I didn’t speak to any of my friends or family for months—this isn’t something I’m necessarily recommending—but I’ve never felt more liberated or able to purely just be me.
I actually came out as gay the second day I was there, and I have to say America is the most homophobic country that is still considered free. The Brits are so openly sexual, so openly queer, I once saw an ‘advert’ for a fast food restaurant that said, “The second best place to get a hot chick’s juices all over your hands.”
So you probably have no idea where I’m going with this, I’m supposed to be telling you why you should and must study abroad (even if it’s not London, it should be somewhere). For me, the freedom, the culture, the simple fact of being privileged enough to hop on a plane and go to a different country. Not to mention schoolwork is a very low priority, and in most programs grades won’t even affect your GPA.
It was also about simple human connection, finding myself, discovering that home is not necessarily a place, but a feeling. Some of the best nights I spent were the mellowest, lounging around, doing homework, and being with people who both did and didn’t speak the same language as me.
I did fall in love with a girl. I reckon I’ll run into her again someday; I do owe her $57 and some change, and I think she might owe me an explanation.
I did meet my gay counterpart, and I reckon he and I will be living together in some Camden flat within the next five years.
I did experience true loss, for the first time–and you would think that would’ve ruined it, I would have flown home. But like I said, home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling, and I’ve never had a better time, despite the fact that I was living the most agonizing time in my life, than while studying abroad.
Maybe I’ll see you across the pond sometime.
Miranda Wilder is a senior majoring in philosophy and journalism.