What did you learn from studying abroad?

Photo by Susan Yin

When I started this blog, its premise was temporal but open-ended.

It’s not because I couldn’t keep up with blogging daily — once committed, the process becomes second nature. Honestly? I just did not and still don’t see a world in which my life in Syracuse, NY would be worth chatting about and exploring.


It’s been two weeks since I took a three-hour nap (essentially, after running around grabbing gifts, trying and failing to pack up my entire life in London into two suitcases, attempt to discern what goods and garments were donatable and meeting up last-minute with friends) and hauling it back to Heathrow.

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My good friend Amber + I in Oxford Circus a few hours before I left London

I didn’t haul it by myself: I was met by Jillian, who helped bring my two bulbous, bursting, bulging suitcases to Paddington via the Circle line. It was from there I took the Heathrow Express, which was a dream for a little brown angel lugging two suitcases as big as she was.



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Veggie shepherd’s pie with soya protein? Sign me up!

As is like me these days, I have been running non-stop since I returned to the states. I visited my brother and my parents at their house in Washington, D.C. I then flew out to St. Petersburg, FL, to spend some some good, time-difference-free quality time with my girlfriend as well as her family.

Christmas and preparing for it have been a whirlwind, just as finals season was. It’s only now, post-holiday-cheer and post-moving-from-London, that I have a chance to tangibly reflect on my time abroad. Naturally, I have changed since those shy, tentative days of sunshine pink Instagram posts and “green” optimism about England.

So far, the two biggest differences London brought about in my thinking are:

1) the way that I weigh imperialism’s effect, on both developing countries and immigrant diasporas in colonizing countries, and

 2) the insidious nature of nationalism, disguised as patriotism.

I know people just want to hear about how the endless rain and the endlessly hot men who look and sound like Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston and the endlessly hot food (supposedly not well-seasoned and incompatible with my culture, but nevertheless the fish + chips and Guinness have settled comfortably into my thighs) have left their mark on me.

I mean, yes: I have much to say about British film culture and general Britishisms and eats, across Europe. I can’t stop saying “flat” and “toilets” and sometimes “queue.” My British accent, however disrespectful, has improved. I have Snapchat-video evidence to demonstrate my growth.

But even though a fried fish fillet nestled between a buttery bun invokes nostalgia for Leon and I miss Sainsbury’s cheesecake with an Adele-like yearning, these tidbits haven’t been what I turn over every time I listen to an NPR podcast or read American news.

I have my black British music class and my politics + the media class to thank (or to blame, depending on your perspective).

After spending this semester dissecting reggae and grime, finding out about the legacy of steel pans in the U.K., busting myths about the African and Caribbean diasporas in England and soaking in the history etched into Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, how could I not mull over imperialism’s wide-reaching effect? Across geographical space and decades of time?

Armet Francis’ “Woman And Leaf Earrings” at Burberry


Likewise, after spending this semester analyzing media coverage on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, Catalonian independence, sex work and sexual assault, the semantics of terrorism, and Brexit, I watch and read and listen to news with a critical lens, a critical filter.

Getting a Union Jack keychain and calling it a day would have been a better souvenir of my time abroad. I agree.

Contrary to popular belief, studying abroad in England was not easy. By far.

Yes, it was an absolute hoot and yes, while trying, Fall 2017 was easily the best semester of my time in undergrad.

But there was so much about the tattered fabric of England (colonizing the entire world, basically; see “the sun never sets on the British empire” for reference) and its murky future that forced me to confront America’s own tarnished past and uncertain fate.

Because of this, I called my own identity as an American into question. What does it mean to be a patriot? What does freedom and equality look like for marginalized groups? Does that look different in the U.S., compared to the rest of the world? And if so, how?

And what am I supposed to do about it?

I don’t have any easy answers to these questions. But I do know that through this blog and therefore, truly, because of this past semester, I am even more committed to social justice through storytelling.

I have more answers than I did boarding that Virgin Atlantic flight back in August — more answers than I knew there were questions. I also have more tools to challenge concepts of world, particularly outside of my geographic bubble, as they come up.

I could not have gotten there without stepping outside of myself, away from my home base of Syracuse. It’s only through thrusting myself into a new experience like studying abroad in London that I can regroup, re-calibrate and look at America and my own life with brand new eyes.


By Caroline Colvin

Black retro-obsessed non-binary baddie ♡ pleasure & wellness advocate ♡ aesthetic archivist ♡

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