An inside look at the once in a lifetime experience of studying, living, and working in another country and another culture.
It is hard to believe that at this time last year I had just begun to explore the possibility of studying abroad by going to a meeting at my university in the United States, and now here I am, living in London.
Unfortunately, my three months here are nearly over and in just a few short weeks, I will be catching my flight back to the States, but I have definitely made the most of this opportunity thus far.
I am a sophomore (second year) student from upstate New York, although I go to university in Maryland at Mount St. Mary’s University. I am used to being away from home for months at a time but leaving my friends, family and the comforts of the United States for this long was a new experience for me.
There are 10 students from my university who are studying in a consortium at University of London Union, as well as about 80 others from places like California, Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin. We have come here through the American Institute of Foreign Study, or AIFS, which began the movement of American study abroad.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the program that was offered through my university and AIFS was the fact that I would be able to do an internship while in London. However, a few of my classmates and I found that applying for our Tier 4 Visas and going through the internship process was not as simple as it sounded.
“It really is a long process, which usually happens while students are taking exams. There are lots of forms to fill out and guidelines to follow,” stated Sinéad Sheehan, Head of Academic Services at AIFS London.
“Getting the Tier 4 Visa was time consuming and expensive,” stated Emily Gilman, an intern at Felicities, a fashion public relations agency.
Each of us had to pay close to $500 in order to apply for a visa, and we also had to make a biometrics appointment, where we had official photos and fingerprints taken.
However, after we found out that we had been approved for the visa, the process became a lot easier. We waited to hear about our placements, and we would have interviews during one of our first weeks here.
I knew that I wanted to gain some experience in my fields of study, which are communications studies and Spanish, and I was thrilled when I found out that my internship would be with The Prisma. This was a perfect combination of both of my majors.
For the past few weeks, I have worked on articles that have been actually published, as well as conducted interviews with different groups and people for stories. I have also been able to use my Spanish and writing skills through working at this internship.
One of my most memorable experiences so far has been covering a trial at the Royal Courts of Justice. Being able to learn the story, sit in on the trial and then write an article about it was really an incredible opportunity.
I have also really enjoyed learning about current events that are happening in London, England and around the world through the articles that I am assigned to research and write.
This internship has definitely helped me improve my writing skills and has allowed me to learn more about working for a newspaper. Although it is demanding and challenging at times, I love being able to write and inform readers about important topics.
I have learned first-hand about different aspects of journalism through this internship, and, although I have not enjoyed it at every moment, I have seen it as an incredible learning experience.
Even though Bauman is a landscape painter and Melissa is more into drawing, she believes that her internship has given her helpful experience in her chosen field. She also thinks that it has allowed her to boost her resume and begin networking in a big city, which may help her find a job in the future.
“My dream is to go into marketing and advertising. I would love to create logos and advertisements for products” stated Melissa.
Although she is not getting the exact same experience as she imagined for her future, she enjoys spending her Monday evenings accompanying the painter on artists’ talks, where an analysis on a specific artist or painting is done, and she also works towards promoting Bauman’s work to different galleries.
Similarly to Melissa, Kierstin Young, a communications studies and English double major who is also graduating after this semester, was not quite placed where she had expected to be. However, she is taking full advantage of her experience and enjoys telling people that she works in Parliament.
Kierstin does research for Barry Sheerman, a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Her daily tasks include taking notes in meetings and during debates as well as working on fundraising and making tea.
“This experience has been very busy and fast paced, but I have been able to accomplish and learn so much in such a short period of time,” said Kierstin.
Since she did not have too much of a background in politics, she believes that the patience and understanding of the people that she works with have really helped make this internship one of the best parts of her experience in London.
“With graduation so close, I still do not know exactly what I want to do, but even if I do not go into politics, the skills that I have learned will still apply,” she stated.
A few of my classmates have been able to participate in some special events that occur in London during the spring, such as London Fashion Week and the Great Daffodil Appeal.
Shannon Wersch, an international studies major from Colorado, interns for Marie Curie Cancer Care, and she works towards raising money for people with terminal illnesses who need end of life care.
Shannon was able to help book entertainment to boost donations for the Great Daffodil Appeal this year. This campaign brings in the highest amount of donations for the care centre and asks volunteers to sell daffodils throughout the month of March.
Shannon normally works in an office, but was able to sell daffodils on the streets of London for one day, where she took notice of people’s generosity towards the campaign.
“I think that this has been a valuable experience. I have gotten to work hands on and also learn how to act in a real work environment,” said Shannon.
Although she did not work backstage at a runway show, Emily was able to help out by running errands and making deliveries to designer houses. She has learned about the stress and fast- paced nature of the fashion industry. She normally makes phone calls to potential clients, picks up merchandise and products and makes tags for new products.
“Although I am not in the PR field, this internship has opened my eyes to the business world. I have also learned a lot about working with people,” stated Emily, who had experienced some frustration with her internship in the beginning. “Not everyone is going to like you.”
Although each of our experiences has been different, we have all been able to say that interning in a real work environment has been beneficial for us, even if the experience has not been positive the entire time.
It has also taught us more about our surroundings and the city that we live in. We have noticed a few cultural differences, such as variations between American and British English, sense of humour and big city living. Learning the currency and the Underground system has allowed us to feel like real Londoners.
Each new experience here has taught us something and will help us in our future.