Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: Cambridge (page 1 of 26)

All posts from students studying abroad in Cambridge, England

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Name: Emily Gustin

Location: Cambridge, England

It has been over six weeks since I was recalled from studying abroad in Cambridge, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my experience. Leaving to live in a country that I had never been to was very difficult, but it doesn’t compare to how I felt when I had to come back to the US. Adjusting to change has never been a strong suit of mine, and this has been one of the biggest transitions of my life. Oddly enough, my whole study abroad experience has prepared me for something like this, and I’m doing my best to focus on being adaptable and calm in a situation that I cannot control.

I know that many are experiencing grief at this time about all kinds of things. Friends and family are missed; plans, trips, and graduations are cancelled. Some deal with financial instability, job loss, or even the illness itself. This virus has changed almost all aspects of life and everyone has been affected by it in some way. I never expected to come home to such a halted society, which has been one of the hardest things that I have had to cope with since I have returned. Slowly, I have found a new “normal” and have learned to accept my current situation. As cliché as it sounds, I really do believe that everything happens for a reason, and sometimes things have to fall apart to make way for new things.

As for now, I try my best to focus on the positives. Slowly but surely, I am finishing up my schoolwork for the end of the term, which will be over in just a few weeks. As the weather improves, I am spending more time outside and going on walks. I am video chatting with my Cambridge cohort every week, as well as my friends from Valpo. I am learning to be gentle with myself each day and doing my best, which is all I can really ask from myself.

I cherish my memories of Cambridge and everywhere else that I was able to travel to– I am so grateful to have had the opportunity. I met new people and learned so much about myself and about cultures that are different from my own. I know that someday, when all is well, I will return to England, as well as the rest of Europe, to see more of the world. For now, I pray for healing and look forward to when we can all be together again.

To all the students who read this blog: if you’re considering studying abroad, you should do it. Everyone who comes back always says that “it changes your life.” It does, but maybe not in the way you think it will. Not every day is going to be the best day of your life. Just like home, you’re going to have good days and bad days. It turns out that you have to study while studying abroad, too, and it can be hard to balance while experiencing so many new things at once. But you learn so much from this, and you come back home a little bit different than before. The best part of my study abroad experience has been this growth that I have realized within myself, and I want to encourage everyone who has the slightest curiosity about going abroad to go. It’s worth it.

 

Studying, Traveling, and Everything in Between

Author: Emily Gustin

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Since my last post, I have been busy with schoolwork as well as traveling to new places near and far away. Other than my three classes at Westfield House (next to the Valpo dorm), I have two classes at a university called Anglia Ruskin. Currently, I am preparing to write essays for the end of term, one for each class– history of digital media and youth culture and media. The essays are worth 100% of my grade, which seems a little intimidating. At British universities, you are expected to prepare yourself for the lectures and seminars by doing the assigned readings and participating in class. However, your final grade is typically determined by a paper or presentation at the end of term. It took me a little while to get used to this system, but I think I like it– I enjoy the fact that there is more reading than homework that you have to turn in.

Five of us in the Valpo dorm don’t have class on Tuesdays, and we decided that we should make the most of that time. Throughout the month of February, we took two trips during the beginning of the week: one to Cork, Ireland, and the other to Prague, Czech Republic. We left on Monday nights and returned on Wednesday mornings for both trips. I have to admit, at times it felt like we could be on The Amazing Race— we were always rushing to catch a plane or a train or to get to class on Wednesday morning (we all made it). But it was definitely worth it for the amazing experiences I had!

Colorful houses in Cobh

In Cork, we explored the city and took a bus to a coastal town called Cobh (pronounced “cove”). Cobh had colorful buildings, fun cafes, and a gorgeous cathedral on the water. We didn’t have very much of an itinerary– we just enjoyed walking around and appreciating the view. We experienced snow, rain, and sunshine in the short time that we were in Ireland, and we all joked that we were all in Valparaiso (or “Val-pour-rain-snow”). Back in Cork, we went to some shops and an art museum, as well as a donut shop. Overall, I really loved our time in Cork and Cobh, and I would really like to visit Ireland again.

St. Colman’s Cathedral

Prague was another adventure, completely different than Ireland. The city was more fast-paced, filled with people, shops, and restaurants. I completely fell in love with the city and its architecture. Because Prague was never bombed from the war, many of the original buildings still remain, and they are stunning. We saw the Astronomical Clock, crossed the famous Charles Bridge and climbed up a hill (Petrinske Sady) to get an amazing view from above. We also went to Prague Castle and saw the beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral. For dinner, I ate beef goulash, which is a common dish in Czech Republic and other central European countries. All of us also tried trdelnik, a dessert that we had seen advertised all over the city in almost every cafe. It’s ice cream in a cone, but the cone is a churro-like substance. I had strawberries and chocolate on mine, and it was delicious!

Old Town Square in Prague

I can’t believe that I am halfway through the semester– It feels as though I arrived in Cambridge yesterday. I have been so blessed to have this opportunity and can’t wait to see what comes next!

: Eva, me, Andrew, Gina, and Peyton

I couldn’t get enough of this view!

Restricted Travel

Author: Julia Riordan

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

In light of the recently discovered virus, named Coronavirus, much of my travel has been restricted to the U.K.  We were additionally told that if the virus becomes progressively more prevalent in England, we risk being sent home. Obviously receiving this news was nerve-wracking and frustrating, yet, it has encouraged me to reflect positively on my time here.

a market I frequent in
Cambridge

I consistently find that when we are forced to enter a new chapter of our life, the process of leaving reminds us of our appreciation for the experience as a whole. Before arriving in Cambridge, the process of saying goodbye to friends, and reckoning with the idea that I would not be on Valpo’s campus for many months reminded me of my appreciation for my life as a Valpo student. In the midst of a busy semester, it is difficult to appreciate your experience as a student, and to reflect on the ways that your friends have positively impacted your life. Nonetheless, often times when we enter a new chapter of our lives, we are reminded of what our past experiences have done for us.

my favorite walkway in Cambridge

Similarly, after receiving countless updates about the severity of coronavirus, and its potential impact on my study abroad experience, I envisioned myself leaving behind the quaint, cobblestone streets of Cambridge, and returning to the States mid-winter. This prospect was scary and frustrating, but I felt an appreciation for Cambridge and this experience as a whole, that I had not foreseen. In fact, my semester abroad has been busy, and I have traveled throughout Europe in an attempt to see the world. But I have failed to take a moment to appreciate how at home I feel in Cambridge, and how much I have grown as a result of this experience.

the beautifully sunny and green colors of Cambridge

After weeks of living in Cambridge, I have certain cafes which I frequent nearly every day, favorite bakeries, and even certain walkways which I find so much beauty in. I have grown to love Cambridge even more than I believed possible, and the prospect of leaving so soon has encouraged me to reflect on my time here. The truth is, I have been so busy jetting around Europe, completing homework assignments and running to class, I have entirely neglected to reflect on my time here. I have finally settled in to my life here in Cambridge, and I believe I am a more independent, adventurous student as a result. Yet, this experience has been far more meaningful than I have realized. As a result of studying abroad, I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I feel much more relaxed here, and I have found time throughout my day to cook for myself, or enjoy a walk throughout town. In fact, I have discovered how to adopt a  more relaxed lifestyle since arriving in England, and I’m not sure I’m ready to give that up yet.

Chelsea Bun from my favorite cafe in Cambridge

It is not definite that we will be sent home before the end of our program. We are at the mercy of this virus, and are collectively hoping it does not continue to spread at such a fast rate. However, this experience has helped me to slow down, and reflect on my time as a study abroad student. In some ways, I am grateful to have been shown how much this experience has impacted me. I am grateful that I have realized my full appreciation for my study abroad program. In the meantime, I intend to further enjoy Cambridge, and enjoy every day that I get to study here.

A fun afternoon punting!

Making a New Home

Author: Emily Gustin

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

After a few weeks, I feel I am finally settled into life in Cambridge. It was not the easiest journey to get to this point, but I am glad for the struggle– it has let me grow in ways that I never would have otherwise.

Culture shock is a strange experience and difficult to describe because it affects everyone in different ways. For me, I was finding it hard to talk to the people in my classes. In British universities, students choose a course of study and take modules (classes) in that subject with mostly the same people throughout their degree (unlike liberal arts schools in the US, where students take classes in different subjects). So, when I showed up to my first class, I was definitely the odd person out– everyone had already been taking classes together since the start of their first year, and they were already a tight-knit group. I felt self-conscious and concerned that I might not make any friends, since I was an outsider. It took a couple weeks, but some of my classmates have opened up and I feel comfortable having conversations with them– I just had to be patient and give them and myself some time to adjust.

Moving away from my family and friends has also been difficult for me, but I have found such comfort in talking to my cohort– we are all in the same situation, and I am so thankful to have them as a support system. Because of them, I know that I am never alone.

When I walk through the streets of the city, I feel like I am a part of it, fully immersed into a new way of life that did not seem possible a month ago. Getting to know the city has been one of my favorite parts of living here, but I also wanted to explore places outside of England. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Milan, Italy, for my first trip outside of the UK. I went with two others in the Cambridge group, Grace and Katie. Traveling is a wonderful thing, but we learned that you have to be prepared to be patient. It’s a lot of work just to get where you want to go, including many forms of transportation (train, bus, plane, metro, and others). After arriving in Milan, we had to figure out the metro system (in Italian, which none of us could read) to get to our hostel. Thanks to Google Maps, we were able to find the correct route to take.

We had two full days in Milan. The Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) is a beautiful, massive building in the heart of the city, and it’s hard to miss. It took over six hundred years to build and is the 5th largest church in the world. We were lucky enough to go to an organ vespers service, so we even got to go inside for free. All of the readings were Italian! We spent much of our time in Italy enjoying the art and architecture of Milan. The three of us went to Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) and Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle), which had amazing collections of Italian art, as well as art from around the world (including Michelangelo’s last sculpture and Mategna’s Lamentation of Christ, which are both very famous).  We also got to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie, which was an amazing experience; I couldn’t believe that I was seeing such a piece of art history.

Grace, me, and Katie in front of Duomo di Milano

Tagliatelle bolognese—one of the several pasta dishes I enjoyed in Italy

Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, located in Santa Maria delle Grazie

Katie, Grace, and I did not have a shortage of Italian food; we had either pasta or pizza for every single meal while we were there, and I have no complaints. My favorite meal was homemade rigatoni with tomato sauce and burrata cheese on top, complete with custard pie for dessert– it was all so delicious. We also had gelato several times, which did not disappoint.

I had appreciation for these yellow apartments that we saw while walking the streets of Milan

When we started the journey back to England, I think we all felt a little different, but in all the best ways. We had seen some of the most iconic architecture and art pieces in Italian history, eaten some amazing food, and mastered public transportation in another language. Though we were tired, I felt a sense of accomplishment. As the three of us headed for the airport once again, I watched the sun come up over the mountains and I felt a moment of stillness. It was such a beautiful view, and I was so thankful to have experienced it.

Our last glimpse of the cathedral

After taking a taxi, a bus, a plane, and a train, we made it back to Cambridge safe and sound. I think we all agreed that it felt a little bit like coming home.

Settling In

Author: Julia Riordan

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to initially settle into my new (temporary) life in Cambridge. Everything was unfamiliar. I did not understand the behavioral or conversational customs. Certain things about life in Cambridge, which I never thought I would notice, created discomfort. For example, Cambridge is an incredibly old town. The sidewalks are surprisingly narrow and the storefronts and businesses inhabit old, quaint buildings. When inside these buildings, the hallways and seating areas are extremely small. I never assumed that these small differences in culture would create noticeable discomfort. But, initially these cultural differences caused me to feel like an outsider. I certainly felt like I stuck out. Regardless, I am starting to settle into my life here and appreciate aspects of their culture which was once unfamiliar. 

This walkway although beautiful, is incredibly narrow!

I would advise any student to anticipate culture shock, regardless of their previous travel experience. I could definitely not anticipate the amount of cultural differences that I would take notice of. Additionally, the actual experience of living in a town with stark cultural differences is very different from thinking about these differences within the comfort of one’s own culture. Unfortunately, it is not until I arrived in Cambridge, that I began to think more about these cultural differences and how I could make myself comfortable here. A paradox arises then. One should anticipate cultural differences, but cannot truly understand the effect of these differences until arriving in the country. 

A museum in Cambridge with beautiful architecture

I have always had an appreciation for the architecture of a city. I absolutely love that architecture can reflect the culture of the city but can also differ so greatly across countries or even towns themselves. Architecture can also reveal a lot about the history or the city. One can learn much more about the complexity of those living in Pompeii by studying the architecture and organization of their city. By studying the architecture of a city, I can appreciate its beauty but also understand more clearly the cultural and historical context with which the city was built. Luckily, Cambridge is a city rich in history and full of beautiful, colored buildings. Upon arriving to Cambridge, I would walk throughout the city focusing specifically on its architecture. I would research various buildings in Cambridge and seek information about how the city was built. I have found that by familiarizing myself with the culture of  Cambridge, I have felt more connected to the culture. I would suggest study abroad students to similarly find a way to connect to their country’s culture so that they can hopefully feel more comfortable.

While in Cambridge I have enjoyed trying all the different kinds of pastries

Most importantly, I urge all study abroad students to allow themselves to relax. As American students we are accustomed to running from class to various meetings. In our spare time we complete countless hours of homework. We seem to always maintain a certain level of stress. Although it is crucial for students to devote a generous portion of their time to their schoolwork, it is equally important to care for one’s mental health and general well-being. Moving to another country is stressful. But studying abroad is a unique experience which allows us to be students but also travelers. Without the time commitment of clubs and weekly meetings, I can be a student but also try cooking new recipes and explore the city more. Studying abroad has allowed me to explore my other identities besides my identity as a student. In doing so, I find myself investing more time into my studies but also into my own interests and passions.

A market I found while exploring Cambridge with many different kinds of food stands!

Ultimately, settling into a new country will be overwhelming and difficult. Yet, the discomfort of living in a new country is short lived when you can learn to appreciate the culture of the country you are living in. However, I am having fun exploring the city and pursuing my interests in the meantime. 

I found this cute bridge and tiny river while exploring the architecture of Cambridge

Managing Expectations

Author: Julia Riordan

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I will embarrassingly admit that my decision to study abroad was influenced by the social media posts of those who have studied abroad before me. Their posts were seamlessly edited and unbelievably beautiful. Above all, these images subtly remind social media users of what can be made possible by studying abroad. By studying abroad, we can easily travel between other countries and see beautiful, exotic places in person. Perhaps I was a bit naive before arriving in England, and my perceptions of travel were distorted. It seemed both inexpensive and ever-possible to visit parts of the world that felt unbelievably far from Valparaiso. Yet, the experience of studying abroad has taught me not only how to travel to these exotic places, but also how to manage my expectations regarding travel.

A couple friends and I decided that we wanted to travel to Vienna, Austria for an upcoming weekend. Being slightly naive, we believed that we could cheaply book tickets and rooms at a safe hostel just a couple days before leaving. Yet, planning a weekend trip involved many more logistics than we initially believed. For example, we needed to find a train from Cambridge to London. From the London train station, we would have to take a train to the airport. Upon landing in Austria, we will need a way from the airport to the hostel or hotel. At this point, we would have taken two trains, a plane, and a taxi/uber. I could have never anticipated the amount of planning that such a short weekend trip would be.

It was difficult for me at first to accept the reality of traveling. It can be expensive, and can be incredibly challenging to plan. How could travel seem feasible yet feel so incredibly overwhelming? Yet, I am slowly realizing that  rather than finding ways to make travel more feasible, whether by research or by careful planning, I should manage my expectations regarding traveling.

This weekend, my friends and I traveled to a beautiful coastal town called Brighton. I had many expectations about the cleanliness of our hostel, or even the appearance of Brighton. Often times, my expectations were unrealistic, and I found myself slightly disappointed. This is not to say that Brighton itself was underwhelming. Rather, I was comparing Brighton to my preconceived and unattainable expectations. When I had little to no expectations, I began to enjoy my time in Brighton. I began to realize that if my expectations were not met, feelings of hesitation or anxiety followed. By setting these expectations which I believed would help me to have a better trip, I was under-appreciating the beauty of the city around me.

There is no straightforward way to manage one’s expectations. Our social media use has a definite role in shaping these expectations and reminding us of them. We can’t flip a switch and suddenly forget our preconceived notions about a particular place. However, by acknowledging these expectations, we can learn to manage them. I was initially disappointed by our hostel. It was rather dirty and dark. It was not as friendly as I had hoped and the environment of the hostel felt harsh. However, my friends and I ended up befriending a Canadian girl named Sabrina in our hostel. We quickly became friends and she accompanied us for the rest of the weekend. My perception of our hostel shifted immediately. I no longer saw the hostel as simply dirty, loud or uncomfortable. Rather, the hostel was also a place to meet people from all over the world. My most cherished memories from my weekend in Brighton were the unexpected moments. It is not that we should travel without expectations. Yet, we should not allow these expectations to control our experiences. Rather, we should quiet these expectations and open ourselves to new and memorable experiences. In my experience, when I can quiet my expectations, I can further immerse into the travel itself and create lasting memories.

Arriving in England

Author: Emily Gustin

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I arrived in Cambridge, England, a little over a week ago, and it has been filled with great adventures already. Each day is filled with opportunities to explore this new (actually quite old) place that I get to call home for the next few months. The center of Cambridge is a short walk from the Valpo dorm, and it’s such a beautiful city. It’s not anything like a typical city that you would find in the US, with skyscrapers towering over you. The buildings are old, some with moss growing on their rooftops. The rows of shops and businesses wind down streets that seem endless, each one different than the next.

Walking the streets of Cambridge

When my cohort and I arrived, our coordinator, Caroline, had planned things to help us get acclimated to the area. We did a walking tour of Cambridge and explored two (of thirty one) colleges that are a part of the University of Cambridge: Pembroke College and King’s College. King’s College Chapel is world famous, and often used as an icon of the city of Cambridge. The inside features fan-vaulted ceilings, amazing stone work, and beautiful stained glass windows. Caroline also arranged for us to have an English Sunday roast at a local restaurant. The meal included a roasted meat of choice, roasted potatoes, greens, and Yorkshire pudding (which is not pudding, by the way). It was all really delicious!

Inside King’s College Chapel

Caroline also took us on a trip to London this week. This, I think, has been my favorite day so far. We took an early train from Cambridge to London, and then took the Underground (or the Tube, as they call it here) to St. Paul’s station. As the name of the station implies, it is right near St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was our first stop of the day. When we walked inside, I was left speechless by the artwork on the ceiling and all over the walls. After walking around for a while, a group of us decided that we wanted to climb up the cathedral and see the view from the top. The stairs wound through tight spaces with short doorways (which are not ideal if you are a taller person, like me), but we finally made it to the top after climbing for a little while. All in all, we climbed 528 steps, and the view did not disappoint. We stood in awe of the panoramic view of London, and it was spectacular.

Inside St. Paul’s Cathedral

Me at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral

After coming down all of those steps, our cohort headed to the Tate Modern museum, ate lunch, and explored the artwork. As someone who is fascinated by art history, I enjoyed seeing pieces that I had learned about by Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. I hope to go back to the Tate Modern soon– it’s free, like most museums in England!

Our final stop in London was a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe. The building is a replication of the Globe Theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. I enjoyed hearing the history of the theatre, and appreciated the old style of architecture that copied the original. After our fun filled day, we got back on the train back to Cambridge and returned to the Valpo dorm.

I am nervous about classes starting very soon, but I know that they will only give me more opportunities to learn, grow, and meet new people.

Wish me luck!

What Have I Done?

Author: Julia Riordan

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

It is currently 1 a.m. in Cambridge and I cannot sleep. Often times I can adjust to the time change while traveling to other countries. Yet for some reason, adjusting to the time change and to my new life in Cambridge is proving to be rather difficult. When I went to Italy with my family in 2016, It was widely understood that I was a sightseer and a visitor. However, I am not in Cambridge because I have decided to embark on a short trip or even take a vacation. I have moved here. The permanency of my decision is unsettling and scary. During these quiet nights I ask myself if my decision to study abroad was a mistake. How could I have anticipated what this move would feel like?

I think that what is different about my current experience in Cambridge is my need to recreate my old life within a foreign place. I have acknowledged that Cambridge is my new home. It is human nature to try and find comfort or familiarity within the unknown. When we are visiting another country, we acknowledge these cultural differences but also find comfort in knowing that soon we will return to the familiar. Yet, Cambridge will be my new home for the next couple months. Therefore, I must find ways to make my current life in a new country more comfortable. Yet, this is a tricky process when we are surrounded by the unfamiliar.

After talking with my cohort, it seems that many students similarly yearn for the comforts of home. What helps however, is wandering our new home and enjoying aspects of the city that are wonderfully different. Perhaps you will find an ornate building that immediately demands your respect. Or, you become infatuated with the historical context of the new city. Rather than focusing on the differences of another country and your own discomfort, it seems helpful to find an appreciation for certain aspects of your new city. My new favorite church is pictured below.

These feelings of discomfort or anxiety are normal. It is not surprising that students feel far from the comforts of their homes. However, confiding in your cohort will prove to be extremely beneficial. Your cohort is undoubtedly experiencing the same discomfort or fear. By confiding in each other, you can validate and encourage one another. You may even become friends with the students in your cohort.

Despite my feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and doubt I am excited for the experiences to come. Although my decision to study abroad has completely altered my life, it is also a fruitful opportunity that will help me to become more independent. It is easy to view studying abroad as exciting, yet it can be harder to anticipate the difficulty of adjusting. It may be helpful to think about ways you can cope with these adjustments before arriving in a new country. However, you have more support than you realize from your cohort and from your family and friends back at home. Take a deep breath and enjoy your new adventure. It’s going to be amazing.

Reflections in the Cam

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

The River Cam (taken on my last day)

In between hectic packing and cleaning, I managed to squeeze in one last walk through the City Center the day before I moved out of Cambridge. I could feel the bittersweet weight of goodbyes settling into my chest as I crossed the bridge over the river Cam, automatically shaking my head at the eager Punting guides. This is the last time…kept running through my mind.

But I knew I’ll be back someday; I had often imagined my future self as we met many Valpo alumni over the semester who came to see the house again, exclaiming with nostalgia as they found their Cohort’s photo on the wall. But I also knew that it would never again be the same Cambridge that I’ve grown to love so deeply over the past four months.

Cohort-102: leaving our legacy at our Cambridge home.

There had been multiple nights (mostly in February and March) where I had cried myself to sleep, homesick and longing to return to my family, friends, and pets. But at some point along the way, I suddenly found myself longing for more time in Cambridge.

I think it took many ingredients for me to unknowingly concoct the potion that really opened my eyes to how quietly my time was passing by, how little I had left, and that I really didn’t want it to end. Maybe it was the rapid change of pace with final papers and presentations, or letting go of the many unrealistic expectations I had placed upon myself, or finally throwing myself 110% into deepening our cohort relationships, or the “we only have ___ weeks left!!” type of memories we were making, or something else entirely.

(THIS PHOTO WAS NOT STAGED) Mellie, Demi, Jasmine, and I

Almost all of my trips to mainland Europe happened during the second-half of my semester, and every time I returned to Stansted Airport, the bus or train ride to Cambridge felt more and more like going home.  I’ve said it before in a blog post, and I’ll say it again— the family that grew out of 26A Huntingdon Road, will forever be the most valuable and life-changing piece of Cambridge for me. January hadn’t even passed by the time we started yelling, “I’m hooooome!” every time we walked into the living room after being gone (for an hour or for a weekend).

Unfortunately, I think four months is just enough time for a foreign place to become familiar: to feel at ease in a crowd of locals, to slowly collect grocery stores and pubs that become your “regular” spots, to walk down streets and be greeted with memories rather than curiosity. But one of the best parts of Cambridge is its ancient history, and it is comforting to know that Castle Mound will always be an ancient Roman ruin that overlooks the city, and that as my eyes adjust when walking into King’s Chapel, my breath will always be taken away— at least for a moment.

When my sister Eva visited, she slyly captured my quiet ritual of taking in Cambridge from the top of Castle Mound

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One of the things I struggled with while abroad was worrying that I wasn’t “challenging myself enough,” or that I wasn’t growing as much I ought to be.  This irrational fear was in response to a mixture of American culture’s pressure to always be productive, the way that I had perceived others’ experiences abroad, and my own bad habit of romanticizing the future.

One of the moments I’m most proud of: spontaneously reading some of my poetry at local pub’s Open Mic event (special shout-out to the friends who pushed me to do this!).

In retrospect, it was probably only once I was able to let go of that fear which sparked my semester’s turning point. When I left Cambridge, I still did not feel like I had changed (at least not as much as I “should have”), but I could see that I’d grown by truly coming to terms with and being okay with that.

Now that I have been home, visited Valpo, and have begun catching up with my friends and family that I missed beyond words, something I did not anticipate has happened. Of course hindsight always helps, but it seems like I needed to be placed back in my old environments and settings before I could see that I have indeed changed. Thus, this summer (and more, I suspect) has already been a continuation of my abroad experience, as I am slowly discovering the ways—both subtle and instrumental—that I have grown while living in Cambridge, England for four months.

That’s a wrap! With much love and a fond see you later, I say: farewell, England. (Taken at Blenheim Palace)

Flying Solo: On Traveling Alone

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, Enlgand

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Taken in Genoa, Italy

During my semester in Cambridge, I have been very fortunate to travel beyond Cambridge and even the UK. Most of these trips have been with at least one other cohort member and which has had lots of benefits: multiplied memories, always having someone to be your photographer, splitting costs, etc. And some of my favorite trips ended up being to the places that my fellow cohort members really wanted to go to; the spontaneity and lack of expectations has always added to the fun.

On the other hand, a lesson that we have collectively learned is that it can be really hard to travel with a group. In addition to everyone having different hopes and wish lists for what they want to accomplish or see on a trip, it is just a fact that everything will take longer when in a group— from getting from point A to point B, to deciding on where you want to eat dinner.

Personally, I think those challenges often will outweigh the costs, and that learning how to communicate, compromise, and give each other the benefit of the doubt are just as important to take-away from a trip than any souvenir. That being said, another lesson I have definitely gained while abroad has been in finding enjoyment and fulfillment in solitude.

One of our first independent trips outside of England to Edinburgh, Scotland (taken on the street that inspired J.K. Rowling’s “Diagon Alley”).

And even aside from the pros and cons of traveling with a group, sometimes because of our different bucket lists and class schedules most of us did travel alone at some point. I have grown up in a culture in which “women traveling alone” has always been approached as either reckless, a last-resort, or incredibly brave. Still, I felt ready, and I didn’t think it was fair for my gender to hold me back.

I had hopes for a solo trip through France, but it didn’t work out mostly because I was running low on time and money, and that’s okay. I did end up traveling on my own a few times when on trips with fellow cohort members and our paths split up. During Spring Break, I left Liz and Jasmine at Florence, Italy and went by myself to Marseilles, France where I met up with Nolan for a few days. He then went on to Spain and I traveled back to London.

Nolan and I in Marseilles, France

Then right before I came back to the States, Jasmine, Liz, and I took a trip to Spain to celebrate completing our semester abroad. We were together from London to Ibiza, to Valencia. Liz and Jasmine went ahead of me to Madrid and then London. I followed the same path but spent a little more time in Valencia and Madrid. The second-half of that trip felt like the first time I really traveled alone; i.e. not just on my own when traveling from point A to point B but alone when exploring a new city.

I learned a lot about myself throughout the semester, and my time alone in Spain gave me the perfect mind-space to reflect on my time abroad. Additionally, it felt really good to prove to myself that I could do it on my own. Below are some tips for anyone else making plans to fly solo.

Madrid, Spain

Do Your Research

There are a lot of helpful websites that can give you an overview of how safe a city or country is, especially for women, foreigners, at night, when traveling alone etc. Look up reviews of hostels beforehand and try to figure out anything you can about their public transport before you get there. Even if you can’t find out that much, or if it’s nothing different than what you’d see in person, it can be really helpful for your peace of mind.

Another thing I learned is that traveling alone can end up being more expensive than traveling with others, so be sure to factor that in to your budget. For example, you can’t buy food or drink in bulk and split the cost, and there were a couple times where I had to pay for an Uber when it wasn’t safe for me to walk alone in the dark but would have been okay if I had been with others.

Alone ≠ Isolated

“Alone” does not have to mean “lonely.” Try to find fulfillment and enjoyment in being alone. Use it as a time to reflect, and as an opportunity to feel proud of yourself! Acknowledge that traveling alone is no easy feat, and that it takes a lot of courage, independence, and confidence.

Additionally, traveling alone does not even mean you have to be alone! Throughout the semester we always met solo travelers in our hostels and sometimes they’d join us for dinner or even on the rest of our journey (which was a really common thing for young travelers to do in Europe).

I went on my own to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy where I got to see one of my all time favorite painting (Birth of Venus by Botticelli).

You can also make plans to go to places where you either can meet other people or where you won’t feel as noticeable if you’re on your own. I really loved going to museums and open markets for these reasons.

Be Smart

If you can, solo travel in countries where you can speak the language (at least some basics). Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way when in Spain but thankfully there were a lot of very kind people who were willing to struggle with me and use a lot of gestures. I highly recommend downloading an offline translator app and Duo Lingo.

If you do not get an International phone plan for the semester and plan on just using Wi-Fi (which is what I did), it will be totally fine. BUT, if I had known I was going to be traveling alone or if I had done any more of it I definitely would have made sure to get phone service. Especially in a country where you don’t speak the native language very well, it makes it 100% more difficult to not be able to use Google translate or maps.

Also, make sure you always keep others updated on your plans for the day and where you’ll be (e.g. your cohort, your mom, etc.). You can also use Find My Friends and share your itineraries etc., and especially if you don’t have phone service where you wouldn’t potentially be able to call someone for help if you didn’t have Wi-Fi.

Treat Yourself

I truly think the key to successful solo traveling is “treat yourself”!! It helped me feel less lonely and self-conscious about being on my own, and helped me feel proud of my accomplishments. Another perk of traveling alone is you don’t have to find restaurants and plans that make everybody in the group happy— just do whatever makes you happy!

Enjoying a ham, Camembert, and tomato crepe with horchata in Valencia, Spain while journaling and people watching.

I love wandering slowly and taking a very long time when exploring artsy neighborhoods, art museums, and bookstores. I hate feeling rushed, but I hate even more making the people I’m with wait on me (even if they’re super nice about it and really don’t mind). So when I traveled alone Florence and Madrid I savored taking my time in museums, and it made me appreciate the art so much more and feel refreshed.

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