The World is Your Oyster

Germain Louie, our UCEAP student (and soon to be Study Abroad Peer Mentor at UC Irvine!), wrote the following reflective piece on his time abroad at Queen Mary University of London this spring 2018 term. He speaks about his journey from a high school student, visiting the city for the first time, to his transformative experience abroad in London as a UC Irvine student, leaving us with his “6 Best Tips/Advice” for those about to embark on their own journeys abroad! 

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Photo 1. Panoramic view along the River Thames from Sky Garden. (PC: Germain Louie).

Three years ago, I graduated from high school and embarked on a trip that would be the beginning to a new experience. I’m not exactly talking about college. I’m talking about traveling to Europe. Part of my week-long trip to Europe included visiting London for just two nights and staying in a hostel with a group of other individuals as part of a tour group aimed at individuals around the ages of 18-29. During my brief stay in London, I was exposed to a new yet familiar surrounding as there was an immense amount of diversity, but pockets of sunshine that peaked through the grey clouds. As my final night came to an end, I left determined to return. As I would begin my undergraduate studies at the University of California, Irvine for the upcoming fall quarter, I already knew I wanted to pursue a study abroad in London.

Fast forward a few years, I found myself accepted to a study abroad program in London. Needless to say, I was thrilled. These past five and a half months, I have been able to study abroad in London and do so much more. As cliché as it sounds, my experience abroad has truly been transformative, captivating, eye-opening, and full of opportunity. Although moving to a new country meant being in a situation where there would be “unfamiliarity,” I found myself assimilating quite easily as I was not tasked with trying to learn a new language. Also, being a native Californian who grew up in a small yet diverse city in the Bay Area, the expansive diversity in London was rather welcoming and familiar. If anything, the biggest change was adapting to living in a large city and taking public transportation frequently. To me, this was an enjoyable change. This meant not having to worry about sitting in grueling traffic and fighting over parking spots.

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Photo 2. UC Irvine Spring 2018 Study Abroad Student, Germain Louie, in front of Tower Bridge. (PC: Germain Louie).

Although much of the British people have a stereotype of being rather cold, pessimistic, and/or reserved, this was definitely not always the case. Part of the experience being abroad is learning about a foreign culture but stepping outside your comfort zone and breaking the barriers. My experience with Londoners for the most part had been that everyone is extremely friendly and willing to socialize, but sometimes that means initiating in conversation first. If there’s anything I learned, British people LOVE talking about politics and HATE transportation delays.

My experience studying in London has simply been amazing. I consider myself lucky enough to study at Queen Mary University, located in East London. During my time abroad, I was able to take two classes in International Relations and two classes in Economics. Studying International Relations abroad had opened my eyes to the huge differences in value of education when comparing the education received in the UK versus the US. For one, my courses offered comprehensive and in-depth analysis on international politics at a much larger scope. With that, students seemed to be of a higher caliber as several of them had an expansive library of knowledge about world-wide history. Beyond that, it was a nice change to transition from a quarter system to a semester system. I had more opportunity to fully digest new material and dare I say be stress-free.

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Photo 3. Germain Louie wearing a ‘Class of 2019 Alpha Kappa Psi’ graduation stole pictured at Queen Mary University of London. (PC: Germain Louie).

I was also able to serve as a Student Representative for the UCEAP UK Office and join a professional business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi. From these involvements, I was able to meet both students from other UCs, but also a ton of ambitious local Londoners. I was able to expand my network as I attended a variety of events whether it meant going to a local pub or attending an insight day. I was lucky enough to attend an insight day at Salesforce and a business conference hosted by Oracle. With that, came an eventual mentorship from an individual who works at Salesforce. Beyond that, I was able to simply network and meet a ton of individuals who would offer professional and personal advice.

Straying away from the academic aspect of my experience abroad, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to 12 different countries all throughout Europe. The best part of each country was to fully immerse myself in their culture and try to “do as the locals live.” I began to find more value beyond doing the typical touristy visits as I would try to interact with more locals and travelers alike to hear their stories and backgrounds. Plus, you have the opportunity to get more travel tips or discoveries of “hidden gems” that they may have found!

Needless to say, my overall experience was definitely filled with far more highs than lows. I found myself appreciating a lot of the little things in life that we often take for granted. Some of these include the amazing Californian weather, the limited amounts of green spaces/parks, alone time to isolate from the constant hustle in our lives, and simply walking around more to observe your surroundings and live in the moment. As a bonus, I think one thing that I, myself, and several other Californians missed apart from family and friends was being able to smile to strangers on the street and receive a smile back as well as the copious amounts of the infamous American junk food like Hot Cheetos and Takis (or rather just any quality spicy food in general)!

Now that my semester abroad in London has come to an end and I’ve returned home to California, I’m definitely saddened to leave such an amazing place. However, I do intend to re-visit the UK in the future whether that means for vacation, a potential master’s program, or even re-locating and working abroad. However, my experience abroad does not end there as I plan to share my wealth of knowledge and aid other students to also take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad through my new role as a Study Abroad Peer Mentor at the UC Irvine School of Social Sciences Academic Office. With that, I leave you with some tips and advice before you begin your experience abroad or even if you are currently abroad:

  1. Don’t set expectations or compare your experience abroad to someone else.
  2. Come in open minded and willing to step out of your comfort zones.
  3. Go beyond the touristy experience and do try to live like a local.
  4. If public transportation will be your main mode of transportation, bring a book or have multiple podcasts loaded to make use of your time!!!
  5. Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. (Whether through UCEAP, your host university, etc.)
  6. Lastly, be courageous, meet new people, and make time to self-reflect every so often!

Germain Louie is an incoming Senior at the University of California, Irvine, double-majoring in Business Economics and Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations and Public Law at the School of Social Sciences. He completed a semester abroad at Queen Mary University of London during the Spring 2018 semester in London, England. For additional inquiries, he can be contacted at louieg@uci.edu.