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    Living abroad forces students to gain real world experience

    Ruchi Asher

    Issue date: 4/17/09 Section: Opinion
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    A look back on a semester spent in London reveals the true value of the experience.
    Media Credit: Ruchi Asher
    A look back on a semester spent in London reveals the true value of the experience.

    I am in denial that the year is ending. As the weather turns somewhat warmer and the flowers burst into bloom, spring serves as a cruel reminder that final exams are near. Possibly the more terrifying thought is that exams summon the end of my year abroad. Granted, I still have two months of revision; this seems like eternity compared to the two weeks left in the academic year at Case. However, as all things academic gain momentum and the rest of life slowly winds down, I can't help but reminisce over the experiences of the last few months.

    The year has been full of adventures from the beginning. I arrived in London as an immigrant carrying twice my weight in luggage, bravely shooting death glares at anyone who dared laugh at the sight of a small Indian girl hauling two suitcases, two carry-ons, and a laptop case through the narrow streets of London. Despite having arrived with an entire set of kitchen furnishings, bedding never quite made it into my luggage, and my first night in London was utterly blanket-less and cold, much like the stereotypical English personality.

    From that day forward, living on my own abroad has forced me to learn a few difficult life lessons, the most useful of which was the ability to single-handedly reduce a 104-degree fever. At Case, there were always nursing majors or apt pre-meds down the hall to offer advice. In London, I had no idea where my nearest emergency room was or any idea how to navigate the tangle of socialized medicine. Aside from trying to decipher medical differences, living on my own abroad has forced me to develop a sense of independence that could have taken until after graduation to emerge. Nothing screams "real world" like an evening rush-hour commute, trading newspapers with bankers in three-piece suits while balancing bags of vegetables. Even the effects of the economic crisis seem more ubiquitous when on my own in a world financial capital.

    While English culture comes with less of a shock than others, it still required a period of adjustment. I learned to say "trousers" instead of "pants," as the latter refers to women's underwear. It never fails to amaze me that even the most elite academics firmly believe that the British Empire was (and still is) the best organization the world has seen. I learned to love some parts of British culture, too; for example, I am perfectly content with the unspoken rule of silence on the Underground, as it provides rare moments of quiet in an otherwise noisy and bustling city. However, being so far away from Ohio has also made me appreciate home in ways I could have never realized. Organic food everywhere is fantastic, but sometimes a girl just needs ranch dressing, preservative-packed breakfast cereals, and high fructose corn syrup. Midwestern warmth and acceptance of strangers was an aspect of American culture I craved. That, and American pride in overthrowing British rule.

    Still, my experience abroad has taught me to adopt a new city. London has proved to be exhilarating. The city is all about high speed, high energy, high-strung, and heels. There are days when the weather is more temperamental than Cleveland, moments when cranky bus drivers slam the doors in your face, and entire weeks where ever-present London fog oppressively seeps under my skin. However, the thrill of being mistaken for a local in such a vibrant and international city never loses its charm. It sounds cliché, but I not only fell in love with the city, but also learned to become part of a world that is much larger than I could have comprehended before living abroad.

    Ruchi Asher is a third-year economics and international studies major studying at the London School of Economics for the year.
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