As a literature student, I’ve always been a big reader. As one of the literature capitals of the world and the setting to some of my favorite books, films and musical artists, I’d always wanted to visit London. However, there’s a difference between just visiting a place and living there. At only 20 years old, I wanted an experience that would make my life more exciting than the novels I read for once.
Studying abroad was the journey I needed, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Why did you choose American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS)?
I chose AIFS for a few reasons. First and foremost, they offered a program in London, which was my desired destination. Most importantly, though, the school they offer their classes through — Richmond, the American International University — would put me smack dab in the middle of the most beautiful part of London: Kensington.
Not only that, but a surprisingly large amount of study abroad students make up the overall student population, so any type of student has access to take every class, while some other programs sectioned off certain classes just for study abroad students.
I wanted to truly immerse myself in the culture, and that meant being able to take classes with locals and people from all over the world, and Richmond is an international university. AIFS and Richmond also offered the widest array of class options of the many London programs I looked at. I was able to finish half of my minor abroad with the way the classes transferred over.
What was your favorite part London?
Where do I begin? London went so far beyond my wildest dreams. I would have to say my favorite part it, though, is that it’s so diverse. It’s a hub for people from all over the world, including locals, tourists, and immigrants. I wanted to go to an English-speaking country, but London was a great way to interact with people from all over. I also loved the perfect combination of old architecture and modern buildings.
What made your experience abroad unique?
What made my experience abroad so unique were the friendships I made. London would have been amazing no matter what, but I really lucked out with my roommate and overall study abroad squad. There’s something so special having friends from all over the world that you can share your experience with, even long after you’ve returned home.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff for my program was so amazing. They had an open-door policy, but let you do your own thing if that’s what you wanted. It was nice to feel like you were truly living on your own in another country while still having a nearby support system that existed solely to help you through the process if you needed it.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
The only thing I wish I would have done differently before going abroad was save more money. I definitely survived and felt like I did everything I wanted to, but it would have been nice to have a little more cushion.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
A typical day in the life of my program didn’t exist. There was obviously routine in our classes, but I felt like I was doing something new every day. This specific program included breakfast and dinner on campus, so that’s where I found myself in the mornings and evenings, but the rest of the day was spent exploring my beautiful city, whether that meant checking out a new bookstore, visiting a museum, or checking some things off my bucket list.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
In the same vein as the last question, my free time was spent doing any and everything. Everyone had lazy Netflix days just like at home, but for the most part, I tried to do something new every day. Some of my favorite activities included visiting other parts of the city (London is SO big), trying out new restaurants, and just walking around.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best it?
I lived in a flat 10 minutes away from campus. While doing my research beforehand, this building sounded like it was for full-time upperclassmen. However, after living there for a few days, I realized I lucked out.
In apartment-style housing, I felt more independent (I only had one roommate) and it’s actually where I met some of my closest friends. My neighbors were all from my program, but we were told we shared the building with local working professionals. However, a lot of my other friends lived in the corridor-style buildings closer to campus, where they had another two or three roommates.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Before studying abroad in general, I wish I could tell everyone that they will come back a different person — in a good way! As cheesy as it sounds, you’ll discover yourself abroad, and returning home will feel weird.
Now that you know what all is out there, it’s hard to go back to everyday life. Your friends and family will expect everything to go back to normal, but it won’t. For my program specifically, I want anyone considering it to know that I couldn’t have asked for a better transition abroad. The campus food could be better, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
I don’t even feel like the same person since I’ve been home. I used to be such an introverted homebody, but now I want so much more for myself. I’m planning to move across the country and go abroad as often as I can.
The real dream is to live in another country someday, which actually feels plausible now. I’ve made the most amazing friends from all over the United States, so I’ve traveled more in the last year than I can ever remember.
I’m overall more ambitious because I know what’s out there for me.
Would you recommend your program/provider to others? Why?
I can’t recommend this program enough. Everyone is different, but there’s something for everyone with this program. You won’t find another program that will bring you to a nicer, safer area, or one that will make you feel like a permanent student instead of a temporary one. I would do it a million times over again if I could.
Mikayla Lawrence is from Olympia, Washington. She goes to Western Washington University, where she studies Literature. Mikayla is the president of Odyssey, a social content platform on her campus, and acts as an AIFS Study Abroad Alumni Ambassador. In 2016, she taught English to adults in Ireland for two weeks, and in 2017, she spent a semester in London and visited France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Greece.