Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How: The Beginning of My Study Abroad Journey
By Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram
I still find it so funny that I’m actually writing this blog. Just a month and a half ago, I was completely enrolled in my classes at UMass Amherst for the spring, and now I’m sitting in the center of London trying to explain how I ended up here. It's a bit of a story, so here’s the best way I could come up with sharing it:
Who: Well, me! Hi! I’m Mahi and I’m a sophomore Honors chemical engineering student with a minor in engineering management. I work for the Commonwealth Honors College as a content writer in the Communications Department and wanted to blog my experience studying abroad!
What: I’m in a student exchange program with University College London (UCL) for spring 2022! I’m taking four really great classes (or “modules,” as they call it here), and I’m so excited to bring you all along with me on my journey!
When: I got here on January 7, 2022, and my classes started on January 10, so I had a very short winter break this time around. I have to be here for two terms; the first one is until March 25 and is purely teaching, and the other one is from April 25 to June 10 and is more of an examination period with a lot of revision classes.
Where: UCL is located in Bloomsbury which is in the West End of London. Although I signed up for the University’s accommodation, since it's in a city they tend to have clusters of dorms everywhere since there’s easy access to transport, so I live a good 30-minute walk away from the main campus. I thought I’d hate it at first, but it’s been a great way for me to explore the city and get some good exercise in!
Why: I’ve moved around quite a bit most of my life and there was always so much to experience in every place I went to. I didn’t want to stop with just these places though. I wanted to explore the entire world, I just never knew when I could do it. And so when I heard about study abroad programs, I knew it was the perfect fit for me as I’d be immersing myself in a completely new environment while still being productive and on track with my degree.
So, why UCL, specifically? Well, I always heard amazing things about the university itself, how diverse its student body is, the quality of education, the research opportunities they have, the advantage of being right in the heart of London. As soon as I saw it on the study abroad list, I immediately wanted to seize the opportunity.
How: Now this is where it gets a little messy. After going through the study abroad programs and finding UCL, I first made an appointment with the International Programs Office (IPO) to discuss how to go about the application process. Since I’d be there for spring 2022, I got in touch with them in the middle of the summer so I didn't miss any deadlines, which was very lucky for me as UCL’s deadline was quite early (September 30).
Then I figured out my finances (all of my aid counted, so I saved quite a bit!) and started getting course equivalencies done. This is where the problem came in. My major has sort of a “flow-chart” model where every chemical engineering class I take is almost always a prerequisite to a class the following semester, and they’re usually not offered in the summer or winter. I couldn’t find a class that was the equivalent of the one I had to take at UMass for the spring, so I just dropped the idea entirely.
Later in December, I was talking to my departmental advisor about my spring course selections and he brought up my study abroad. I told him I wasn’t doing it anymore and why, and then he told me that I could actually override that class. The whole program was completely out of my head and now, out of nowhere, I suddenly had the chance to actually do it and finish my degree on time.
I knew this was something I really wanted to do, so after getting the override, I restarted everything. Luckily, I didn’t say no to UCL yet, but I still had to talk to all my advisors again (departmental, Honors, study abroad), and then inform my banks and work, and then talk to my insurance providers—it was a lot of things to do, all in the middle of finals!
Thankfully, after all of that, I was still able to make it here! I have no clue what to expect over these next few weeks, but I’m just excited and ready to go for whatever comes my way!