I ought to preface my first post with a little about myself, and how I first approached the idea of JYA. From the get-go, I was fairly sure I was going to be a proud member of the JYStay crew. While my friends know that in the right situations I can be a bit of a motor-mouth, sharing a bit too much and talking a bit too fast, if I’m not with a group of close friends, I tend to be as quiet as a computer mouse. That said, I naturally shy away from entirely alien situations, especially without the moral support of a close friend or two.
Thus I’m sure no one was surprised when I, even before moving in to my freshman room, had pretty much decided against JYA. Yet as with almost everyone, many things have changed about my personality since settling into the Vassar community. Not to say that I’m not still a shy person, but as months passed and sophomore year rolled in, I began to question my knee-jerk rejection to studying abroad. My freshman roommate, now my sister in all but blood, also helped along this process every so often by extolling the many virtues of JYA, which she had set her sights on from the beginning. I’m glad she didn’t see the futility everyone else seemed to recognize in suggesting the venture, as one day my response to her prompting abruptly changed:
“Yeah, okay. Maybe London.”
Fast-forward to roughly a week before boarding a delay-guaranteed flight to the UK, thanks to the spontaneous Arctic climate of New York this past month. My pre-college self must have fought tooth and nail to finally breach the surface of my often misinterpreted stoic veneer, as I was, to eloquently put it, a fucking wreck. I had visited London once before, for a few days with several high school friends after our senior graduation, but I had never flown anywhere alone without invariably knowing someone who would meet me in the airport the minute I got off the plane. I was so terrified, naturally, of moving to a new city—a new COUNTRY—without the comfort of knowing a single person when I got there. I heard distantly that there would be one or two other Vassar students studying at University College London, but I had no idea who they were, except that they were in the vast selection of people at VC that I definitely didn’t know at all. So I boarded the small Ottawa-bound plane for the first leg of my journey with nothing but terror and dread in my heart, sure in my mind that my 21st birthday, a mere five days into my stay in London, would be spent entirely alone, with only the well-meant but ultimately heart-breaking birthday wishes of friends and family thousands of miles away. I didn’t even know how to covert that into kilometers.
Thus, introductions aside, I seek with these posts to chronicle an introvert’s six-month journey through circumstances completely antithetical to anything resembling a “comfort zone.” I do hope, and have increasingly come to expect, that my posts will (counter-intuitively) present unwavering proof that it really doesn’t matter who you are, or how adventurous you tend to be—JYA can be a fun, exciting experience even for the most introverted of individuals. Granted, at the time of writing this, I’ve only been here for a week (and about 4 hours), but as introverts will certainly tell you—assuming you have gained their hard-won confidence—the distressing, nerve-wracking part of an unfamiliar situation is just that: it’s unfamiliar. That may seem plainly intuitive, but never underestimate your mind’s ability to find patterns in chaos, and routines in disorganization. Once settled into an environment or situation you find familiar (i.e. one single new friend you can talk to, a memorized path to the dining area, classes in a subject you know well) an introvert can make their own comfy little nest in any college, city, or country, the same as any extrovert. Sure, your nest may not be as big as an entire soccer (ahem, football) team, or all your classmates, or even everyone on your hall, but the minute you can find one single thing to feel comfortable about, that feeling will multiply in unpredictable ways.
Hence I preface my subsequent posts with these reassurances, in hopes that I can convince even one person that shyness or introversion need not be a hindrance to studying abroad. If you’d humor me, and take the time to navigate my tenebrous and convoluted writing style, I hope I’ll be able to impart some sort of helpful tidbits that can help you either decide on a JYA program, or aid in the adjustment process that can seem so daunting upon one’s arrival in a new country.
London Top Tips #1-3:
1. Just walk to the kitchen: Many dorms seem to have sinks in each room. Awesome, right? DO NOT DRINK FROM THESE. There is a reason “traveler’s diarrhea” is a phrase—not saying it happened to me (it did) but it can definitely happen to you (it will).
2. Dip vs swipe: British cards have electronic chips that you dip instead of swipe, and don’t have to sign for. That said, invest in a traveler’s debit or credit card with a chip, unless you LIKE getting dirty looks from every cashier.
3. Find your nearest…: If you don’t know where anyone is, they’re at the pub. Brunch? Pub. Dinner time? Pub. Casual Monday drinking? Pub. Hardcore Friday ragers? Pub. Need free wifi? You get the idea. Look for cheap, college-subsidized pubs—they’re generally found near the central campus.