Honors History major Amelia Freeman is spending the 2013-2014 year studying abroad as a Libby Finch scholar at Oxford University.
My name is Amelia Freeman, and I am from Shawnee, Kan. I am a history student at the University of Arkansas, and my study abroad program is Oxford University Mansfield College. For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep desire to study abroad. My father spent a year in Ecuador, which I believe greatly contributed to this desire. In addition, I have always loved traveling, but I had only been out of the U.S. once in my life, when my family went to Honduras on a family trip when I was thirteen. Studying abroad seemed like a great experience where I could learn a new culture, meet new people, travel the world, and finally understand why my dad still talks about his time studying abroad today.
Getting here has not been easy, and I am not just talking about the almost eight-hour flight from Chicago to London. I recall how all the way back in September of 2012 I began working on applying for the program, and working on scholarships including this one. I remember the many meetings, the requests for letters of recommendation, and the late nights writing essays. I remember loads of work to apply and get all my documents, including a passport and visa together. If you think getting a passport can be challenging, it has nothing on getting a visa. Getting a visa requires tons of documentation, a very specifically sized picture, and either lots of time or an extra $150 to expedite the service, on top of the roughly $500 needed to get the visa and the money to ship everything to the consulate and back. I recall being sad as my friends returned to school without me. Finally, I remember all too well the difficulty of packing for nine months away from home.
Some things about this transition have been relatively easy. I have been to New York City and from the way the underground works, to the bustle of the people at all times of the day and night, to the extreme recklessness of pedestrians and cars, and finally feeling that this city is literally teeming with people, culture, and endless possibilities; I can see the similarities all around me between London and New York. Maybe that is why to some extent I feel that London is simply a busier and more diverse New York. The main language spoken is English, which has also made this transition easier. Also, despite what I was told, the food here is not horrible, and it is not so crazily different, there is quite a bit of variety, just like in the States. I have had many excellent salads since I arrived here, and I have eaten at some places unique to England as well such as Wagamama and Pizza Express. I have not been daring enough to try the fish and chips yet, as I do not particularly like fish, but I am sure I will try it at some point. I have also had some truly amazing tea since arriving in London, including some amazing peach tea in Oxford.
One of the best stories I have so far is when I asked a man how many pence are in a pound and he replied, “Ummm…100? I’ve never been asked that before.” We laughed it off, and I was slightly embarrassed. I was unable to use the Internet on my phone, which I rely so much on in the US, so I had been unable to look it up and was afraid to give anyone pence until I knew for sure.
The hardest part of this transition so far has been trying to put aside my pride and my desire to look like I know what I am doing, and ask for help when I need it. I have always hated asking for help, especially with directions, which has led to me wandering around the University of Arkansas campus more than once. Luckily, since everyone here speaks English, once I do suck up my pride it is easy enough to get help. In terms of transitions, the extreme lack of public bathrooms has also been difficult. Also, although I was warned, I still cannot believe that you have to pay between thirty and fifty pence for some public restrooms. It just seems crazy and very foreign to me.
As I sit writing this in a hotel, I am unsure how my study abroad experience will go. Since I have arrived there have been times where everything seemed exciting and wonderful, like when I felt confident getting around areas I knew, when I got on and off the tube successfully, and when I found an amazing margarita (cheese with basil) pizza. However, there have been other times when I really just wanted to go home, like when I was dragging my suitcases all around London, when my mom left, and when I realized I would be without certain food items I love for nine months. I have never been a person who liked change, but I chose this change. I want this change to be a good experience, which makes it at least a bit easier. I want to really work to meet new people and do things I do not have to the chance to do in the U.S., like rowing and joining the Oxford Union. I also have the goal to see lots of different places both in Britain and around Europe, such as Manchester, Bath, Brighton, Whales, Greece, France, Germany, and Italy. Hopefully this experience will allow me to see that I can in fact adapt to new environments and accept change. I believe that I am ready to give this experience my all, and do everything I can to make this a great experience. I am nervous for what is yet to come, but I plan to meet the future with an open mind.