My name is Alexander Plumadore and I am a sophomore general physics and computer physics double major. In the fall 2018 semester, I traveled to the University of Brighton in Brighton, England on a semester-long program through the Illinois State Study Abroad Program. It was an incredible experience and one I would go back to do in a heartbeat. By going on this adventure, I gained a new perspective on the world.
Before I left, I was nervous. Would I be able to speak to people in England? Would I be able to understand the public transit system? Could I get to my dorm room? Would I even be able to get food? By the end of the first day, I realized all those concerns were unfounded. Everyone speaks English as it is their national language so talking to the locals was incredibly easy. The public transit system was actually very straightforward and incredibly punctual unlike public transit here in the U.S. However, the London Underground was only navigable for me with the help of Google Maps. Grocery shopping turned out to be easy; as they had grocery stores just like in the U.S. I even found some American brands which helped me find a little taste of home. My dorm room was in an apartment or flat setting and had a kitchen my 5 flatmates and I shared. I cooked a lot of my own food preparing me for life in an apartment and making me realize I need more variety in the food I eat.
The only major problem I had was finding the bus stop the first day we went to the grocery store. They were doing construction in some parts of downtown, so the bus stop had moved, little did we know. Arms full of groceries, me and a few of my new friends walked around for about 30 minutes. About 20 minutes in we asked a few different people before we saw a group of college-age students running toward a bus stop. We realized that is where our bus was going to be. A short while later we were on the bus heading back to the dorms.
Living in England for a few months was incredible. Everyone was nice, the food was great, and it was easy to get around. They had incredible food; three of my favorite dishes were Sunday roast, meat pies, and Cornish pastries. Sunday roast is essentially a mini Thanksgiving which pubs have every Sunday. It’s probably one of the best things I have ever eaten. The Sunday roast varies depending on where you get it, so choose wisely. They also have incredible meat pies filled with a variety of things. My favorites were beef, steak, and ale. The Cornish pastries are like delicious calzones filled with meat, potatoes, and vegetables. It’s a whole meal in a portable form, basically the original hot pocket (don’t quote me on that).
The university was right next to a train stop, so it was very easy to hop on the train and go wherever you wanted. I usually took it to the airport which was a 45-minute ride or to London which was a 2-hour journey. It was so cool to be that close to London which amazed me every time I thought about it. The proximity to the airport made exploring Europe by air so easy. I traveled to 4 other countries and Scotland which were all less than a 90-minute flight. This showed me how easy it is to get around Europe and how cheap it is as all those flights were around $120 round trip.
The other weekends I traveled on programs the university organized which included trips to Stonehenge, Bath, Bodiam Castle, Warwick Castle, and Paris. It was really cool to be able to travel so much and the university-organized trips took the stress out of planning. I should also mention that although they speak English there are a lot of slang words that are different from the US. I would encourage you to ask a local as most would be interested in talking to you about their slang, such as how they call university uni.
Turning to academics, I did have to go to class three days a week. This schedule worked very well for studying abroad, however, it was quite different and would take some getting used to if I were to study there full time. Every class met once a week for a lecture and seminar or small group work time/discussion supervised by a professor. There weren’t homework assignments though there were assigned readings. This took some getting used to as I had a lot of free time which I wasn’t accustomed to at ISU. How they determine the grade you receive in a class is through assessments which are similar to U.S. finals and are worth your entire grade. The semester classes I took had one to two assessments. There was a lot of stress as those few essays determined my entire grade. The professors I had were nice and for the most part, I enjoyed my classes. I found their system to be quite conducive to travel as I was able to schedule my classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday which gave me four days to travel. This allowed me to see sights I otherwise wouldn’t have and to get more immersed in the culture.
Thinking back on my adventure it has impacted me in numerous ways, primarily by increasing my self-confidence. On this trip I did things I had never done before. I traveled to new countries alone where the primary language wasn’t English and lived to tell the tale. I realized I am capable of doing more than I thought I could and it pushed my boundaries in ways I didn’t think it would. The other major way it affected me was it gave me a newfound appreciation for other disciplines and fields. The classes I took in Brighton were intended for people majoring in fields other than my own and were what in the U.S. are called major classes. It made me realize how complex other fields can be and how much I can learn from them to apply to my own field.
When I got back, I realized I had become a more confident person. For anyone considering study abroad, I would highly recommend it. It was an incredible experience for me and allowed me to do things I never thought I would. It helped me to find out more about myself. I believe it will do the same for you. One piece of advice I have is to interact with the locals. They have incredible stories to tell, and those moments where you connect with someone will stick you long after the program ends. Another bit of advice is to make some new friends, the other people who are studying abroad are looking for people to do things with. So talk to them, get to know them, and invite them to travel with you. Though I was nervous going into it, this travel experience was the best one of my life.