Alumni Spotlight: Taylor Rea

Taylor goes to the College of Charleston and is studying Political Science and Arts Management. She's from the NJ/NY area and is an avid watcher of anything Shonda Rhimes, shameless instagrammer of her travel journeys, consumer of pizza and Chipotle, and always hoping her bad puns get a laugh.

A young girl posing for a picture.

Why did you pick this program?

Taylor: I picked my program for a number of reasons, but I think the biggest one was because the dates fit my academic and financial needs the best. I went abroad in the spring, so my program ended with plenty of time to find a summer internship, job, and still take a summer course too.

I felt like with other programs it wouldn't have been as realistic to have all those options. Also, the classes available sounded fantastic and many did not have restrictions or pre-reqs. I also really liked the IES field trips, along with the opportunity to either take a course at an outside University or hold an internship. I liked the flexibility it gave, but also provided structure and a support system.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

Taylor: Being abroad is kind of like first semester of college. You're in a new environment and trying to figure it all out at once, but just like freshmen year, everyone is in the same boat and no one really knows what they're doing either (even if it seems like it).

Keep that in mind if perhaps the first week or two aren't exactly what you expected; you'll find your group of friends and figure it all out in due time, just like you did at school!

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Taylor: One of the most important things I learned from being abroad was how much it puts everything into perspective. It allowed me to take a step back from my friends, the drama, the same routine at school, and to really evaluate who and what I was making a priority. It also made me think about what I want in the future and who I want to be.

I just decided to make myself and my experience a top priority while I was in London and kind of realized how happy I was when I did so. Going abroad gave me the confidence and maturity to be independent and to be my best self, but also to leave room for becoming a better self. Overall, you learn more about yourself from abroad than you think you will and that's a really cool experience.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Taylor: Stop thinking about why you shouldn't and take the chance to reap in all the amazing benefits that come with going abroad! The opportunity to truly live, study, and experience a city for more than a visit is an experience that many probably won't have the chance to do more than once or twice in their lives.

I think just as there is a college for everyone, there is an abroad program for everyone too. It's an opportunity everyone should take full advantage of and you'll only regret it if you don't go.

What was hardest part about going abroad?

A young woman standing in front of a Cathedral.

Taylor: I really missed the routine and familiarity I have at school. Little things like my favorite place in the library, the best place to pick up a good bagel, where my friends and I go on Thursdays, or even knowing a professor's teaching style were odd to suddenly not have much use for anymore.

I also think the hardest part about going abroad is knowing it is going to end, at least at school you know you're coming back next semester! Even so, I saw these both as positives because going abroad forced me out of my comfort zone for the better and I had to challenge myself to adapt and to take advantage of a new environment.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

Taylor: My 21st birthday present from my parents was a trip to Prague to visit my best friend. I was so excited, but slept through my alarm. I woke up at 7:26am for a 9:05am flight, and with all the back time involved, I was frantic. I ran to Kings Cross and hopped on the tube to Victoria Station to catch the Gatwick Express. Meanwhile, my dad was telling me my flight was the last one for the day from Gatwick and the other London flights were pushing 800 hundred dollars.

I got to Gatwick by 8:23am and found the EasyJet counter to ask if they could call down to my flight. They were already at final boarding and I still had to go through security and down to the gate. Somehow, and thankfully, there was still a group of guys straggling in line when I rolled up and they all sang happy birthday to me as I caught my breath.

My gate closed right after me, but I made it to Prague and had an amazing weekend with my friends. The funny part was all week EasyJet had been emailing to remind me that my 9am flight had been changed to 9:05am, but I'm pretty sure that extra 5 minutes saved my butt.

What made this experience unique and special?

A group of people posing together for a picture.

Taylor: I think one aspect that helped me have such an amazing experience was the uniqueness of my program. We weren't directly enrolled in a university, but instead my program had a building where professors from all over the city came to teach classes. At first, I thought this would "hinder" my abroad experience, but the dynamic ended up truly making it.

I was able to get to know so many more people on my program on a closer level through classes, living in the same building, and participating in IES trips together. London is such a vibrant city and IES does such a wonderful job helping us transition and encourages us to take full advantage of our time abroad. They really made London feel smaller and much more personal.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Taylor: The ability to navigate and explore one of the world's largest cities on a daily basis. One of my favorite parts about living in London was the accessibility and efficiency of the city's public transportation systems, and one of the coolest feelings is once you finally reach the point of confidence to guide yourself among the tube, the buses, and the crowds with ease (and without your phone).

Anyone can come to London and enjoy the sights, but I know little hints about the city and hidden gems around that really makes me feel like I can call it home.

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

Taylor: I would say to take advantage of the activities and trips IES provides. It's tempting to just skip them and do it on your own, but it's really nice to just hop on a bus and have your day be planned for you (also helps that the bill is sent to mom and dad or a ticket price is at a group discount).

There were a few times I didn't know anyone going, but still went and ended up meeting completely new people on my program and loved the day! IES has a big midterm break trip to Scotland and it was probably my favorite trip overall. Everyone on the trip had so much fun together and we did such amazing activities I wouldn't have even thought to plan for myself, like pet reindeer and went on a Lock Ness boat ride.

Just take advantage of your program's perks- it will only add to your abroad experience. I also think it's really important to spend weekends in your host city. Traveling was amazing, but it is also tiring and can put a dent in your bank account, so I really came to appreciate and looked forward to the weekends when I wasn't doing anything.

My friends and I would explore weekend markets and took advantage of the city for the day, whereas, during the week we did have pretty busy schedules that we didn't always have that luxury.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

Taylor: My time abroad was such an amazing and rewarding experience. I really matured and changed as a person, and it makes me look forward to the future and possibilities.

My friends and I sum it up as: "Going abroad makes the idea of graduating college okay and that the real world will be totally fine." The classes I took also really broadened my understandings about the world, the UK, and perceptions of America and sparked my interest in subjects I really didn't think I would enjoy.

Isn't the conversion rate really bad?

A group of young students gathered together.

Taylor: My answer to that, is yes if you do the math. But it really is important to be realistic that the pound is about $1.50 in comparison, plus London is just expensive on its own, so you can easily blow through all your money if you're not smart about it.

I tried really hard to do 2/3 meals in, don't buy drinks out, avoid places with covers, invest in the student Oyster card, I sacrificed a trip or two, bring your student ID for deals out, and definitely plan on using cash more than you're used it. It's a good budgeting tool and forces you to rethink purchases more than just wiping your card out.