When most people think of studying abroad, they think of exciting things: sightseeing, staying up at pubs and nightclubs, and hopping on trains and cheap flights to explore more new places.
What they don’t think of is cramming for a midterm in your room until 2 a.m., rushing to get coffee between classes, or racking your brain for which assignments are due the next day.
The academic part of studying abroad can sneak up on you. Even from the preparation stage, I was planning what to bring and what places I wanted to see. I wasn’t exactly reading over syllabi or picking up textbooks. Once I was here, it seemed so easy to wander off to somewhere new and leave my grades on the backburner. I wouldn’t call being in a foreign country a distraction, because that is exactly what study abroad is all about! The point of the program is experiencing a new place and what it is like to live here. It is easy to convince yourself that assignments can wait, and you have better things to do in a new country than homework.
This is a common frame of mind. However, with midterms behind us, some of my classmates have had a rude awakening. There are stricter attendance, tardiness, and assignment policies with IES Abroad than at home. These make sense, considering how easy it is to slip into the excitement of vacation-mode. But it’s a thin line. You don’t want to abandon your studies altogether and vacation until you end up with a failing grade, but you don’t want to spend your entire semester abroad cooped up in your room in front of your laptop.
I gave this dilemma a lot of thought as my classes ramped up towards midterms, and I found a solution that worked particularly well—romanticizing academics. This is a tactic that worked well for me at home. When I had a lot of homework to do, I’d make plans with friends to go to a coffee shop or an outdoor space to do our work together. I would designate a specific spot in my room to do my homework, and make it as organized and comfortable as possible - pillow, candles, posters, whatever it took to make the space appealing.
Being disconnected from my space at home doesn’t mean I have to stop romanticizing reading, writing, and studying. In fact, I have found that London is a fantastic place to make the most out of a study session. There are comfy coffee shops on most corners, and most museums have free admission and open cafes, leaving the city abundant with options to settle and get to work.
I have lots of favorite study spots in the city. The IES Abroad center in London is a great place, especially if you hope to work with classmates. I also used the attached garden in the first month, though the cold weather here has drawn me indoors. The British Library near King’s Cross Station is also a great option—lots of tables and seating, and a studious environment that can keep you on task. As a theatre student, I also find myself drawn to the National Theatre. The theatre has free entry, so you don’t need to book a ticket to use their cafe or lounge spaces. There are plenty of tables, good coffee, and a large bookstore for theatre-lovers looking for gifts or a script.
In the end, I didn’t pursue a semester abroad because I wanted to take a vacation. I came to London because I loved the idea of living, working, and yes, even studying, in a European city. There is something so special about knowing how it feels to build a functional life in a city like London, and that means doing more than going to pubs and taking weekend trips. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t explore in your day-to-day life. I have had the most success using my assignments as an excuse to explore, becoming a student and a tourist all in one.
More Blogs From This Author
Hello! My name is Emma Hughes, and I'm a junior studying Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. I'm visiting London to study public relations and explore the arts and theatre communities in the UK. I love theatre, creative writing, game nights, and movies. This fall, I hope to have lots of new and exciting experiences in London, and that sharing them with you helps you get the most out of your time abroad!