Stories that Shaped Us: Life in London
Ashlyn Fransen is an ISA London alumna and current ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador at Eckerd College whose experience abroad during Spring 2022 expanded her love of culture and creative writing.
We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA England and how she found inspiration for her own life throughout the city. Check out this unique story below.
I opened the heavy black door and clacked my boots on the concrete sidewalk. I breathed in the smell of city air, musty and dusty with hints of rubber. I stepped over the roots of the trees that grew out of the sidewalk and thought about how someone had to plan this. Someone had to put these trees here, carefully measuring the distance between each one. The famous black cabs of London drove down the left side of the street beside me, and I smiled at the thought of one day knowing these streets like the back of my hand.
In the spring of 2022, my sophomore year at Eckerd College, I studied abroad in London on a faculty-led program that is essentially “sponsored” by ISA. Eckerd leases a house in the heart of London and sends up to 18 students and one faculty member every semester to live and learn in the city. During the course of this program, students are taught by professors from UCL in the living room. They have access to all of the traditional ISA field trips and staff support that others would have but take classes and live separately from traditional ISA students.
I learned about the London program during my first three weeks at Eckerd. My very first professor had run the program several years prior and was beginning to recruit students for his next trip the following spring. I knew going into college that I wanted to study abroad, but I didn’t fully believe that it would be possible. By the end of my first year, a dream of going to London had taken root in my heart.
I loved every minute of my time in London. As a creative writing professor, the faculty leader had the freedom to hand-pick the group, and he chose a variety of students from many backgrounds. Most of us were involved in creative writing in some capacity (it’s my minor), but there were also some STEM majors in the mix. It was an incredibly diverse group of people even within similar disciplines. We got very close very quickly and grew to love each other despite our differences. We became a family; families fight, but at the end of the day, there’s only love.
Living in London for three months changed my life in so many ways. I fell in love with public transportation. I loved the rush of changing trains because it made me feel so grown up. I liked to pretend I had some big, important job that I had to rush off to. I loved learning how to commute properly: walk with purpose, stay to the left, stand on the right side of the escalator, etc. I saw so many beautiful moments occur in the Underground. A little girl wearing a Nirvana t-shirt waved to my friend who was also wearing a Nirvana t-shirt. A couple of teenagers played footsie on the train platform. A young man gave up his seat for a woman with a cane. Two kids in school uniforms played video games together on the ride home.
I was able to discover my passion for theatre. Before going abroad, I could count on one hand the number of productions I had seen in my lifetime, and all of them were small-scale, local productions at best. London changed that for me. Since the arts are subsidized by tax dollars in England, I was able to see a dozen professional shows for the price of a Chipotle meal. I was amazed by the talent of the actors and the intimate environments in the theaters themselves. The wow factor swept me off my feet, and I realized just how much love I have for this art form.
The day we went to the science museum for my political science class is one I remember well. We went to see the Amazonia exhibit featuring photographs by Sebastião Salgado that pay tribute to the rainforest and some of the indigenous tribes that live there. It’s a beautiful exhibit of dramatic black-and-white photos that feel like magic. They’re shocking and confusing and simply wonderful. I remember feeling like I was in the presence of greatness. The photos of the vast landscapes made me realize and appreciate my tiny place in the universe. And then there were the people. Blemished faces and muddy brown eyes that could tell a thousand stories stared from the portraits. I left the maze-like gallery space feeling awe, admiration, and inspiration.
Inspiration was something I felt quite often in that city – watching street performers, reading books in coffee shops, and visiting museums. Being surrounded by so many creatives both inside and outside the house awakened something inside of me, like all the words I’ve been trying to say my whole life flowed into my journal with perfect form. Since returning, I feel like I have found my place. I’ve gotten into a pleasurable rhythm in my life. I got a job that pays me to write and another that allows me to share my experience with other students and help them find their own London – whatever that looks like for them. Because of my time abroad, I have more clarity about my passions, and I know that I need something that will allow me to channel the creativity that too often stays in the dark. I am a writer, and I want to use that whether that means going into the publishing industry, working for a theater somewhere, or maybe even becoming a study abroad director at a university. I’ve never had a more beautiful and rewarding experience, and it will live on for the rest of my life.
My advice: take the leap. Do whatever it takes to make it happen. I am a big believer that anyone can study abroad – no matter your major – with just a bit of planning. You just have to start early. I promise it’s worth it.
Curious to hear more from ISA/TEAN alumni? Read more blogs from London Alumni or explore other ways study abroad alumni learned about pop culture in their own journey.
Inspired by Ashlyn’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!