It’s Fun Studying Abroad (IFSA)
IFSA is more than just an organization to help students study abroad. They made me feel less alone while I was abroad. The status of being a foreigner was definitely evident, regardless of the similarities between American and British cultures. A majority of students in London commuted to university, and therefore many friend groups formed and were maintained based on where you resided. Because of this culture, I’m not going to lie, there were times where I felt very alone on campus.
While there were a few students from my college in the states studying in London, we were all going to different schools. IFSA offered the opportunity to connect with other study abroad students who would be going through the same process at universities in the United Kingdom. Having this larger network of contacts in London was helpful, especially when planning on travelling throughout Europe on weekends. While I connected with my flatmates and other British students, they were not interested in travelling every weekend. I was highly motivated to explore Europe, as it was my first time visiting Europe, and I was excited to have adventures.
IFSA offered many educational and recreational excursions after orientation. We were able to visit and take a tour of the Wembley Stadium, go on a Jack the Ripper tour around East London, go mudlarking,(engaging in the historical activity of scavenging through mud for valuable items) visit Parliament, and go to Olympic Park. These excursions varied greatly in terms of interests, appealing to a diverse set of students. Each event was included in our program cost, and we could attend as many as we wished and experience activities and the British culture in ways I might not have on my own, because that wasn’t my primary interest when I first arrived. The program therefore offered the opportunity to explore and expand my horizons, which is why I even contemplated study abroad in the first place. I would never have paid on my own, let alone knew about these experiences without IFSA.
My all time favorite experience through IFSA was going to the Lake District. On our way to the Lake District, a few stragglers had to attend the trip later than the large group because of class. We started off the trip strong since we crashed the first class carriage, because there was no other seating on the train. Ten of us were cast out to sit in the crammed space between the carriages. The adventure weekend had already begun. After about half an hour, we were able to occupy seats and rode the three-hour train ride cracking jokes, playing cards, and getting to know each other.
We were on our way to an amazing weekend filled with exciting outdoorsy activities. IFSA had rented out two hotels that offered nature activities just outside Keswick. We had the opportunity to hike, canoe, sail a dragonboat,(boat shaped like a dragon) go mountain-biking, ghyll scramble (climbing, crawling, jumping and getting soaked in a rocky mountain stream) , and climb via, ferreta (similar to scaling the side of a mountain). I had never known myself to be very adventurous or thrill-seeking until I decided to sign up to go ghyll scrambling and climb via ferreta. Don’t know what that is, no worries neither did I!
It was late October, and I had decided to go trekking through a waterfall. Eight girls traveled in the ghyll, our rainboots filled with freezing water. We trekked through the stream and army crawled through a narrow tunnel with terror in our voices, because no one wanted to accidentally touch the dead possum in the tunnel. We slithered through the tunnel and continued our trek, crossing obstacles, and maneuvering our bodies along a fallen tree over the stream. By the end of the journey, our legs were so beat from carrying heavy rain boots filled with freezing water, wading through water, and testing our balance on slippery rocks in the cold, a few of us decided we might as well just jump into the stream. Though I couldn’t feel my toes and I was sore all over, the temperature of the water felt new. I could barely move after ghyll scrambling. So much so, I even contemplated opting out of the via ferreta excursion, but I didn’t.
We strapped on our gear and set out to climb alongside the rocky boulders of the Honister State Mine. Peering over the edge at the road thousands of feet below, I most definitely tested my boundaries. Connected by cable, we scaled the side of the mountain by climbing ladders, walking on a tight wire bridge from one side of the mountain to another, climbing cargo nets. We entered a dark cave, explored the limestone mining ground, interacted with goats, and delighted in beautiful scenery at the peal of the mountain. Never in a million years would I have thought I would have the opportunity to experience something like this.
I was reeling, like the cable that kept me safe above the cliff. By far my favorite weekend ever. I had grown so much in just one weekend and had accomplished everything I had dreamt my study abroad would be. In one weekend I had tested my boundaries physically through these activities, but also socially as I let more of my extroverted self out and befriended many of the other students.
Because of this weekend, a group of us ended up travelling together to Italy, throughout London, and continue to talk today. This one weekend instilled a new philosophy by which I wanted to live. After my semester abroad, I told myself I would continue to live my life seeking new adventures daily and taking risks, and I stick by it. I love living this way and feel I have grown to take advantage of all the opportunities and events that have been laid before me. This philosophy has pushed me to not let fear or my comfort zone inhibit me, and as a result, I have led a much fuller life since.
Rachel Shah was a Psychology major Davidson College and studied abroad with IFSA at Queen Mary University of London, England in Fall 2016. She served as an alumni ambassador for IFSA.