For me, an ideal study abroad experience would not only allow me to explore various cultures and a different way of living, but also give me an opportunity to improve academically. So, when I chose my study abroad destination, I was looking for a place that is English-speaking, strong in my area of study, and allow me to explore the city and nearby cities and countries easily. UCL seems like a natural choice. London, with its rich cultural scene and convenient connections to other European cities, is a perfect place to study abroad.
My biggest challenge while studying abroad actually came from my idea of trying to make best use of the academic resources and taking the time to explore Europe. I found myself constantly debating whether to spend time doing research in the lab that I joined there or hop on a train and enjoy my weekend in another city. This kind of ‘work-life’ balance was very new to me and stressed me out because I didn’t feel like I was achieving all I wanted no matter which side I chose. But that’s definitely also one of the most important things I learned to be a grown-up, that I have to reflect and decide my priorities. Fortunately, I didn’t miss much on both ends – I made satisfactory academic progress and explored a lot of places that I have never been.
It is very hard to pick my favorite moment. I take great pleasure in the conversations and outings with friends, lab mates, and professors that I met there. At the same time, I also very much enjoyed exploring new cities alone. When I came home from a tennis match during ATP finals, when I realized that Paris is less than three hours away from my dorm room, when I spent a sleepless night in Barcelona airport as part of a layover in order to get to my destination early in the morning, I know that this is something that I might never have again, and I felt so lucky to be able to live that dream.
My general advice is simply to embrace the countless opportunities studying abroad offers, academically, culturally, and personally. I believe it is worth thinking what your priorities and goals are, so you won’t be lost in all the possibilities thrown at you. And it is good to take into account how the timeline of the program fit into Rice’s schedule – I ended up writing all my essays the first week of class at Rice while struggling with jet lag, and that was not fun!