The Other Side of the Glass: Preparing for London

Headshot of Isabella Reilly
Isabella Reilly
June 13, 2023
The London landmark Big Ben in overcast weather.

I spent much of my youth peering out my childhood bedroom window. 

No, it’s not that there was much to see. The other side of the window glass was mainly the white wall of my neighbor’s South Florida home. Over the years, my mother tried to ‘brighten’ my view – she would hang outdoor flower baskets and scatter bird feed that more often attracted squirrels than the hummingbirds she loved so much. 

But 10-year-old me would tell you this: I didn’t spend my days looking out the window because of what was there to see. I looked out the window because of what I imagined – the mountains of Colorado and the streets of Rome. I could hear the music of Nashville and taste authentic New York-style pizza. No matter where I went, I always knew I wanted to learn more about what was on the other side of the window glass. 

I spent my first 16 years in Palm Beach, Florida. I had a little New England travel experience under my belt, as both of my parents are Rhode Island natives — a couple of airport layovers in Maryland, too, not that anyone’s counting. 

But six years ago, I said goodbye to my childhood bedroom window. It was finally time to step on the other side of the glass. In December 2017, my mother and I moved to North Carolina, to a home we’d never seen in person and a state I’d never visited once.  

I’ll be the first to say moving all those years ago to North Carolina was petrifying. I spent the first few days in tears, missing the comfort of the Sunshine State. Convinced my mother had made a mistake in bringing us here. I remember just wanting to go home — though I no longer knew where that was. 

Today, when people ask me where home is, I say North Carolina before Florida nine times out of ten. Yes, I was born in Florida. Yes, I lived there more than twice as long as in N.C. But after years of learning new ways to say words I already knew, and exposure to foods I’d never heard of, I felt that I had entered a whole new way of life. I changed in the years since I moved from Palm Beach, and I can’t imagine who I would have become if I’d never leaped. For me, N.C. is home. 

So, what does all of this have to do with studying abroad? 

No, I didn’t move abroad when I moved within the U.S. But four months ago, when the opportunity to visit London with my university’s journalism school showed up in my inbox, my reflection on my experience moving gave me the confidence to apply. Once accepted to the program, a slew of fears popped into my head: What if I say something stupid? What if I lose my passport? Get lost? Forget the name of the hotel? Get nervous at the airport? Don’t understand what someone is saying? 

These questions of self-doubt were similar to the ones I had constructed when I moved. You don’t want to make mistakes when you're going somewhere new. You don’t want to be restricted by what you don’t know you don’t know. You want to flawlessly blend in, not walk around as an obvious outsider. 

This past March, I set off on that 8-day visit to London with 14 of my journalism peers. And I’ll tell you this: I did say something stupid. I didn’t lose my passport, but I did get lost. I didn’t forget the name of the hotel, but I did get nervous both in and out of the airport. I didn’t understand what some people were saying, but I made do anyway. I made mistakes. I did, at times, feel restricted by my ignorance. I didn’t flawlessly blend in — not even close. 

And just shy of two months later, I’m ready to do it all over again — this time, for seven weeks. 

My advice to you, future student traveler, is this: embrace the unknown. When I spent my childhood years looking out the other side of the window glass, I didn’t consider my fears. I didn’t doubt my ability to explore parts of the world I hadn’t seen before. When the time came to leave Florida, a state I was comfortable with, I was initially scared. But when I got to N.C., I slowly realized this was the other side. I made mistakes, but that experience and those mistakes have shaped me into who I am today. 

I had to apply this same philosophy when I visited London, and I encourage you to do the same wherever you choose to study. The fear of the unknown is natural. It’s scary. Anytime we step outside of our comfort zone, big or small, we’re stepping on the other side of something we may not be familiar with. But don’t let that stop you from spending a summer, a semester, or a year abroad. Accept that you’ll make mistakes but that you will learn from them. Get excited to grow, because I promise you’ll like who you meet in the mirror at the end of your journey. 

It's finally time for me to live on the other side of the glass. And so can you. 

Happy travels!

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Headshot of Isabella Reilly

Isabella Reilly

Hi! I'm a third-year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying journalism and creative writing. I consider myself a storyteller. My favorite book is "Jane Eyre," and my favorite song is "Getaway Car" by Taylor Swift!

2023 Summer 1
Home University:
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Boynton Beach, FL
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