Ariana Greco is a Business Management student at Providence College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at Queen Mary, University of London, England in 2015.
If someone had asked me freshman year of college if I was planning to go abroad I probably would have said no. Growing up travel was never stressed as an important aspect of life and I honestly didn’t think much more into it. I was so focused on being the first person in my family to go to college that I didn’t think studying abroad was something important to focus on, or that it would be financially feasible for my family or I to handle. Luckily junior year I was able to come to my senses and realize that traveling is so important in establishing a rich sense of culture, and that I knew my college experience would not have been complete without packing my bags and leaving the country for roughly six months.
Prior to my junior year, I researched every place my school would allow me to travel abroad to as a business major, praying that they would have a program that suited my needs in London. For as long as I can remember I always had a strong desire to learn more about a place that used to hold such great importance as a massive empire. Growing up I loved living through British literature and I constantly found myself reading Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer, Austen, and of course J.K Rowling. I wanted to see the world they came from and I thought London would give me the best look at it. While some children dreamed about visiting the Eiffel Tower one day, I longed to spend endless hours watching Big Ben, or admiring the beautiful parks London was known for. I did not pick London simply because of the city itself, but also because of the massive amount of history England holds and it soon would be all under the tips of my fingers. When I found out IFSA Butler had a program at Queen Mary University (the only closed campus in London), I knew it was meant to be. Not only did I get to study in the city I had always read about, but I also got to go with a program that would give me all the help and support I desired while in England. Though I was convinced on studying abroad in London and going through IFSA-Butler the moment I saw the program, my family was much more difficult to understand the meaning this program and city had to me.
It was hard enough for my family to understand the normal things that happened to me back home in the college I went to in my home state, because they never experienced college, as I have been fortunate enough to do. However, I was always able to accept the fact that they wouldn’t always understand aspects about my educational experience. I always assumed that when I went abroad I would enlighten my Mom and family to the world outside of Rhode Island. I wanted to provide them with an opportunity to see a city I loved first hand, however I realized our educational gap proved a problem. I absolutely love my Mom and I am overjoyed at the fact that I was lucky enough to be a first generation college student, however, there’s a large part of me that wishes they could understand why not only a college education is important, but the fact that studying abroad changes lives, and educates students unlike any other experience they could possibly have.
Leading up to my departure it was hard to get my family on the same page as me. Obviously my Mom supports me, as does the rest of my family, but they just could not understand why I needed to leave the smallest state in the country to study in the UK. Not only am I a first generation college student, but I also live in Rhode Island and anyone who is familiar with this small state knows that most people never leave. Making the decision to travel to London, the city of my dreams, was beyond easy for me to do, but to get my entire family who didn’t understand the importance of this trip on board was not easy. Even now a year after leaving for England I still do not think that they understand the importance of my abroad experience.
I can tell you without a doubt that going abroad is the best thing you will ever do. It’s extraordinarily liberating to know that you’re all alone in a country that is far from the one you spent the majority of your life in. Everything suddenly becomes more exciting. Mundane tasks such as going grocery shopping, or walking to class becomes an adventure and around every corner something new can be discovered. During all of the orientations prior to arriving in your city of choice they always say that the excitement and the feelings you get upon first arriving in your city will wear off and then that’s when homesickness/cultural shock will set in however for me it was the opposite. London never got boring and I never felt homesick there, if anything I felt at home. I had my own apartment, a group of friends, the ability to get up and travel any weekend I wanted, and people who truly understood the captivating nature of the city I grew to love more and more each day. For me the homesickness and cultural shock began on the dreaded day of June 6th, the day I had to pick up, pack my bags, leave my friends and the culture of which I was so well accustomed; to head back home as a completely new person.
While for most people going home is just part of the study abroad process for me it was more difficult than I could have imagined and I think that’s due to the fact that I am a first generation student. When I arrived at home my family immediately assumed I would be thrilled about being back in Rhode Island. They were all so happy that I had this experience, but they didn’t quite understand why I kept saying I didn’t feel quite at home in RI anymore, or why I couldn’t stop brining up the fact that I needed to go back. When I was in London I was surrounded by people who saw the possibilities this city had to offer. The bright lights, the diversity, the history and the fact that no matter what time of day it was there was always visible life in the city. When I came home no one in my family understood that London was now a part of me. My study abroad experience didn’t end when I got back on the plane to head back to Rhode Island, rather, it opened an awakening within me that has inspired me to not only go back there to live long term one day, but to travel the world any chance I get.
It’s been over a year since I departed for London, while my experience living there is over for now, I know I will never forget everything I learned while living there. London really did change my life and I am blessed that IFSA-Butler provided me with the opportunity to excel in another country as a First Generation Scholar. To anyone out there who is thinking about studying abroad as a First Generation student, just know that for you it’s going to be harder to relate to your family when you get home. They’ll be lacking the culture and education you received abroad, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t teach them everything you know about this new culture. Eventually your family will be able to see how important this experience was for you. While my Mom still may not be able to fathom why I fell in love with a city oceans away, she finally understands the importance London holds in my life, and that no matter where I am I’ll always yearn to go back to my second home.