Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Larson

Rachel is a senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth studying Communication and International Studies. She studied abroad her spring semester of her junior year in London, England!

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Why did you choose this program?

It had been my dream to study abroad in London for as long as I can remember. I definitely did thorough research for which program best suited me. Two years before I went abroad I found AIFS and new it was the right fit for me.

AIFS's London program offered everything I could have ever imagined. The Richmond campus is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington, just steps away from Kensington Palace and Hyde Park. Because of its location, I knew it would be safe. Also, it was located in Zone 1, making travel around London incredibly easy, especially with two tube stations right around the corner.

AIFS also provides things that others did not, like an on-campus meal plan during the week, housing and on-site staff.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Because of AIFS's all-inclusive package, I didn't have to find my own housing in London like I would have if I went through a different program. Everything was done for me which made pre-departure planning a lot easier and stress-free. AIFS also includes an optional flight package, this was extremely helpful for me. If you choose this package, AIFS books your flights for you and even gets you transportation from the airport to your new University. As a first-time solo traveler, this was a very nice feature that made traveling a lot less scary.

The University also provides bedding, laundry, and garbage services daily. This way as soon as I landed abroad I didn't have to worry about finding bedding and I could nap jet lag away.

The one thing that I did have to organize on my own was my classes. Since AIFS is an affiliate program you have to take a few extra steps to get things approved by your home University. The main thing being classes, I had to get them approved by my school's department head to make sure the credits transferred back smoothly.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My main advice to someone going on my program, or studying abroad, in general, is to keep an open mind. Things most likely are not going to go as you planned them but that is all part of the journey.

Many people think that studying abroad is a picture perfect experience because that is what they see from others on social media, but I want people to know that it is extremely difficult and it isn't what you see on Instagram. But in the end, it is the most rewarding experience you can ever have.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day or week looked a bit different for me than it did for others on my program, as I did not do as much traveling outside England as others.

In my program, most people had one or two classes a day Monday through Wednesday. Rarely were classes held on Fridays. For me, I took an hour or two every day to remove myself from the hustle and bustle of the city to take a walk in Hyde Park, the largest of the Royal Parks in London having about 350 acres! It was nice since it was a few blocks from campus. After clearing my head in the park I would go to class, get lunch with a friend, explore a bit and visit many many museums. A lot of days ended in a nearby pub with friends enjoying a pint or two with the locals.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Going into my semester abroad my biggest fear was that I wasn't going to make friends. Unfortunately, that fear was a reality for me the first few weeks. I was able to overcome this by putting myself out there, and just being friendly and open to everyone I came in contact with. I talked to everyone that I had classes with and made lunch plans with them.

I wish I wasn't as timid and reserved the first few weeks, but I eventually found my group and I am so grateful for their friendship even now a year later.

What did your parents like about this program?

My parents had nothing but good things to say about AIFS and all the staff in both America and London. When I first got to London, I had the hardest time adjusting, especially with my anxiety it made the first few weeks even more difficult.

My parents knew I was in good hands with the on-site staff at my University, the two resident directors, Nicki and Anderson, were there for me when I needed anything. Whether it was a hug, helping me switch classes, or advice on where the best tea was in the neighborhood, they were always there for me.

The optional flight package also put my parents at ease the day I left for my semester abroad, it reassured them that I was going to get to the correct location.