Just Do It

Meredith Willis

I had a blast on my study abroad. I spent the fall semester in Oxford at University College and stayed with an English family just outside city center. My experience is a little different than that of a total foreigner because I had spent time in Oxford while growing up (my stepdad read Classics there). Regardless, study abroad was a time for me to get to know the city really well and to totally immerse myself in Oxford life and studies. I came out of my experience with new and improved skills and very close friends, both in my Pomona program and those I met through Oxford University.

While there, I really took it upon myself to integrate as fully as possible into the university system, like any fresher would. I joined the rugby team as a total novice, developed a new social circle, travelled around Europe, reacquainted myself with public transport, and rode a bike everywhere. One thing I didn’t anticipate revisiting was how to be a longterm guest in someone else’s home, which I’m glad I experienced. I still keep in touch with my Oxford family and have visited them a couple times since finishing the program.

One of the more memorable moments during study abroad was going on tour to Portugal with Oxford Women’s Rugby Team and Oxford Men’s Rugby League Team. It was four intense days of training, playing rugby, and making long-lasting friendships with people I still talk to and visit. It was an exhausting, exhilarating, and unforgettable experience.

Ultimately after my time there, I felt really comfortable in Oxford and in England. I felt that I could easily move there one day to pursue a career. One of the opportunities I took up as an extracurricular was the Investment and Finance Society, which regularly hosted speakers from Deutsche Bank, Deloitte, etc. After college, I ended up going on a different career path (entertainment), but I learned from my time at Oxford that I had career options outside of my chosen field, if I wanted to explore them. Additionally, I made friends through my extracurriculars and had a place to crash if I wanted to revisit Europe.

Unfortunately, Americans do not have the best reputation abroad; I felt this both while at Oxford and in other European cities I visited. We are often seen as stupid, fat, and gun-toting, no matter your intelligence, appearance, or personal preferences. I felt like I had to constantly be polite and helpful to clear stigma, but on the flip side, I felt a lot of national pride in subtly promoting America abroad through my behavior.

I would recommend that any student studying abroad keep a journal, even if you jot down just a couple lines a day. I wish I had kept a better record of all the unique experiences I had, like going to dinners at various Great Halls at the different colleges, and socializing in the sports-only clubs. I’m forever grateful for my friends at Pomona who swapped letters with me (that we illustrated in rudimentary form) so we kept each other informed about any particularly crazy nights we had in Claremont or our countries abroad.

If I were to impart any wisdom from my experience, I would say to thoroughly research your destination and also your proposed course of study before you design your program. You’ll be there for one or two semesters so you definitely want to be somewhere you’ll enjoy, learning something you’ll enjoy. I ultimately took a tutorial that I feel could have been more effective at Pomona, but nevertheless I still enjoyed my course. Additionally while abroad, try something you’ve always been interested in, like a sport or potential hobby. If you fail at it and totally embarrass yourself, who cares? You’ll be there for like, three months. Go for it.