Growing up in Nigeria, I passed through a British education system. I wanted to study in the U.K. for University because I knew the transition would be easier; besides, most of my friends were studying in the U.K. so I wanted to be where they were. I ended up coming to the U.S to study because I’m a U.S citizen so it was a lot cheaper. After coming to the U.S., I promised myself I would find a way to live my dream of studying in the U.K. Once I got to college and realized that study abroad was a possibility, I knew I wanted to study in the city that I believe is the heart of the U.K, London. I applied and got accepted to UCL and I was really excited about living with other students and getting the full study abroad experience by immersing myself completely with locals and other students at UCL.
Because of financial limitations things did not work out that way so I made the decision to live with my family in Kent. Kent is a county in South East England. It borders Greater London to the north west, Surrey to the west and East Sussex to the south west. This goes to say that Kent is outside of London and I had to come into central London almost every day for school. While I was making the decision to live in Kent, I thought my daily commute would be about 30 minutes. Keep in mind, 30 minutes was a stretch for me because it was a new city and I was used to living on a college campus where I could usually get from point A to point B in about 10 minutes. To my utmost surprise, the commute from my home in Kent to my university in central London was 1.5 hours on a good day. On a bad day, (which was not rare in London transportation) with several delays and incidents, the commute was as long as 3 hours.
I started off the commuting process really skeptical and was bummed at how long I had to sit and how bored and irritable I might get. As time went, I began to love commuting and embraced it to be a huge part of my experience abroad. The early stages of commuting were difficult; I had to get used to the high price of transportation, the plethora of people during rush hour (which was usually when I travelled), the scarcity of seats, the constant delays, missing my train by seconds, etc. The more I commuted, the more I mastered the system. I knew what exact time to leave my house to catch my train; what times to avoid the trains and what trains might be less crowded. I learned how to cut down 10 minutes through different routes and short-cuts and how to be a local on the train/subway (earphones in and minding my business; small talk was unacceptable).
To address the latter, I quickly learned that London is a very fast-paced city, a little unlike Houston where my home university is. Everyone is trying to get from place to place as fast as possible with as minimum contact/conversation with strangers as possible. In Houston and maybe in the U.S in general, conversations while commuting was more of a norm. People became friends with strangers because they smiled at them while walking or spoke to them on the bus. This was not the case in London. Everyone was going about their business, walking briskly and making as minimum contact as possible. This was an important thing to learn because it helped in my transition to become a Londoner.
While abroad, I got the opportunity to travel a lot. My experience with commuting in London helped me become a pro with the transportation systems in other cities. I remember moving around in Barcelona and Rome pretty easily without Wi-Fi or mobile data.
Regarding my worry about not getting the full study abroad experience, I quickly came to realize that UCL was a commuter school and only international students and “freshers” (freshman) lived in the dorms; so I wasn’t out of place. Whenever I wanted to stay late nights for a party or event, I would sleepover at a friends’ accommodation, so everything worked out fine!
Furthermore, living with my uncle was the best decision I could have made. It helped me reconnect with my uncle, aunt, and cousin while saving thousands of dollars. I also met and formed relationships with a lot of my extended family in the U.K. I am thankful for all the conversations, family reunions, and relationships I was able to get out of the experience. At the end of the day, although I was living very far away which had its disadvantages, I was able to solidify a lot of family and friend relationships and also became well versed in the art of public transportation in London.