Personal Growth, Professional Development, and Pandemic Precautions During A Study Abroad In Brighton

Grace Worwa, a political science, Spanish, and English major at Gustavus Adolphus College studied abroad in Brighton, England in Fall 2021. We spoke with Grace about her decision to study abroad as a senior during COVID-19, why she chose Brighton over its famous big brother, London, and how she expects study abroad to impact her future career as a lawyer.

Why did you decide to study abroad? Why Brighton?

From the moment I learned about study abroad in high school, I knew I had to do it. The concept of living and learning in a completely different country filled me with such excitement, anxiety, and intrigue. Excitement because who wouldn’t be; anxiety because this experience would put my reserved, introverted self so far from my comfort zone that I wouldn’t even be able to remember where it was anymore; and intrigue because I wanted to know how such an experience would change who I am and what I know.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to go to England — I’m a huge politics nerd and the Brexit controversy was going full throttle at the time. I originally wanted to study in London because I wanted to try living in a big city, but I soon realized that it was the most expensive location in England by far. I ultimately settled on Brighton because it was affordable, reasonably close to London, and had the political science classes I was looking for.

Did you set any goals for yourself to accomplish during your time abroad?

Yes! I made a bucket list as soon as I arrived in Brighton. It included things like ice skating at the Royal Pavilion, seeing a professional football game, and attending a play at the Theatre Royal Brighton. The list got longer and longer as the semester progressed, but I made a pact with myself to cross off two list items per week. I was able to cross off almost everything in the end!

A more general goal that I had was to say “yes.” I’m an introvert all the way, but I didn’t spend eight hours on a plane just to stay in my room. I wanted to experience England and get to know the people who lived there. So, when my friends invited me to the clubs, or on a trip to Madrid, or to our residence hall’s Christmas craft night, I always said “yes.” I’m glad I did because all those “yeses” generated several strong friendships and a mountain of memories for me to look back on.

Grace smiles at Stonehenge during a field trip.

What thoughts did you have about studying abroad during a pandemic? Why did you decide to go abroad now?

I feared that quarantine requirements would force me to spend my first 10 days in England isolated in my room. How would I get food? What about the stuff I would need to buy for my room, such as towels, toilet paper, etc.? I also expected that the pandemic would prevent most ravel within the U.K., not to mention around Europe. I predicted that some of my classes would be online rather than in-person. In short, I thought that studying abroad in a pandemic would take away from the full experience of living and studying in England.

Despite all this, I still decided to study abroad because it was my last chance to do so. I attended the University of Brighton in Fall 2021 as a senior, due to graduate the following spring. I planned on going abroad to Argentina during my last semester, so if I wanted to get both trips in, I had to go to England in the fall, during the pandemic. Even though my experience in England would be marred by COVID, I decided that the opportunity was still too rare to pass up.

What precautions are you taking to stay safe and healthy? How did USAC provide support or education on the pandemic and study abroad?

Like at home in the U.S., I carried a stash of masks with me everywhere I went as well as a bottle of hand sanitizer while abroad.

Our USAC on-site advisor was extremely helpful in dealing with COVID. He sent us updates on the U.K.’s COVID regulations as soon as they came out, and he even provided us information about COVID requirements within Europe to help us with our travels. It was a relief to know that I could go to him with questions about this unfamiliar, overwhelming thing of a pandemic and know that he could help me find the answer.

How do you expect study abroad to impact your professional plans?

If anything, studying abroad has made me question my previous career plan. Originally, I was going to take a year or two off after undergrad to work and study for the LSAT, then I would attend law school. Now, I’ve caught the travel bug. Going to law school would mean settling down in the state where I’m licensed, and an attorney’s workload would make it difficult for me to travel as I develop my career. I don’t want to be done traveling yet. I want to live abroad again, perhaps as part of a charitable program or organization. I don’t know what the next few years of my life will look like quite yet, but studying abroad has shown me that I want travel to be a part of it.

Grace takes a selfie at Beachy Head in East Sussex.

What cultural extracurricular activities have you participated in while in Brighton?

I volunteered with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a national nonprofit that saves lives at sea. I worked at the gift shop in their lifeboat station in Shoreham once a week, and I really enjoyed it. Three other volunteers worked the shift with me, and we spent most of the time talking. They were residents of Shoreham and had been working with the RNLI for years. I learned a lot from them about their lives, and I shared a lot about American culture. One of them even taught me to juggle! They also taught me a lot about the RNLI and the boat station — coming from a country where sea rescue is run by the government, the idea of a nonprofit operation was an interesting new approach.

What was your favorite part about your time in Brighton?

The friends I’ve made. The night before we all flew home, we had one last dinner together in our flat. A couple students in my program cooked sweet potato soup, homemade mac and cheese, and Christmas cookies, and a few others bought ice cream and cupcakes from a nearby store. We all sat in a circle with our food, and we just talked. I looked around and I realized that this was the last time we would all be in the same room together. This moment, and the last three months, were completely irreplaceable. That thought made me so incredibly sad and happy at the same time — sad because it would all come to an end the next day and happy because I realized how much these people meant to me.

What cultural differences have you noticed most between British and American culture?

The difference between the British and American university systems has definitely been one of my larger adjustments. I attend a small college at home, with small classes and professors who are very hands-on. I’m used to doing a reading or preparing an assignment for class two or three times a week and having everything from in-class participation to regular homework tasks count toward my final grade. Imagine my shock when I arrived at the University of Brighton and found out that a single test or essay would determine my entire grade for the class. This meant that attendance and regular reading had to be self-motivated, and I found it difficult to set my own homework schedule and keep to it.

However, in the long run, it allowed me the independence and flexibility that ended up being crucial to my well-rounded study abroad experience. Rather than always hiding away in my room or the library with my laptop, I could go out with friends or take a trip to London without worrying about losing points for not finishing the next day’s assignments. This way, I could say “yes” to new experiences as the opportunities arose and still thrive academically. I figured out how to balance school with the rest of my life, and that is a skill I plan to use now that I am back home.

A view of the ocean at Brighton Beach.

In what ways have you grown during study abroad?

The decision alone to study abroad was a huge step outside my comfort zone, and each new experience I had during the semester pushed me farther and farther away from it. Although this made me nervous, a larger part of me found it exhilarating. I liked challenging myself to expand and learn and grow, and I don’t want that to end with study abroad. I want it to be integrated into how I live my life, and I would never have realized that if not for study abroad.

What advice do you have for future study abroad students?

My advice is to soak it all in while you can. Say “yes” to new experiences, and step outside your comfort zone. That way, you open yourself up to an infinite number of possible personalities, futures, and perspectives, and that’s how you learn who you are and how you want to live.

Is study abroad in England calling your name? Click here to learn more about USAC Brighton.