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Olivia Baez

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Global Studies and Political Science
Program: King's College London
Location: London, UK
Term: Spring 2019


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I chose to study abroad because I had never been out of the United States and wanted to take advantage of this opportunity while it is available to me. As a Global Studies major, I felt that the experience of being in different places around the world would help me immensely in understanding and conceptualizing the information that I am learning. I chose to go to King's College London because my Global Studies world area is Western Europe. I wanted to learn as much as I could about that area in the world so that I can apply my knowledge to the real world.


What did you learn about yourself?
Studying abroad was the most life changing time of my life. Although I had plenty of moments filled with laughs and smiles, I still struggled. I experienced culture shock at the beginning of the trip. I was full of excitement and nervousness when arriving in London. At the beginning, I learned that it is easy for me to make friends from all over the world and at UNC. New experiences with new people lead me to recognize my strengths in connecting with other human beings. I learned how much I care for people. Everyday, whether at school or at work, I am now able to more easily see more good in other people, as well as the strength in myself. Despite learning so much about myself during the pleasant experiences, I learned the most about myself when I went through the rough patches. Adjusting to living in a new country was hard for me. Even though most of the population of London speaks English, I had previously never been in an area of the world where most of the people sound extremely different than myself. Things weren't the same as they were at UNC, and it truly shocked me. Living and going to college in a big city across the world from everyone and everything that I know was hard for me to deal with. After going through a personal crisis while I was abroad, my mental health got worse than it was with culture shock by itself. I was depressed. At the time, I had persistent thoughts about ending my life. The flat I stayed in was my own room; I didn't have a roommate that could just physically be there for me at night. I thought about dropping out of the program so that I could go home. I did not want to be in London anymore. I wanted to be with my family, but that wasn't attainable. I sought help from a therapist in London, the study abroad advisors from King's College London, and my family. The therapist diagnosed me with a mental illness that I was unaware I had been living with it for almost my entire life. I have struggled mentally before with no success in figuring out what was causing me to feel the things I was constantly feeling. Luckily, or if I was writing this at the time, unluckily, culture shock and this personal crisis brought my symptoms of my mental illness to the surface. Being diagnosed and treated started to validate all of the feelings I was feeling. I didn't feel as unstable as before, but still experienced depression and suicidal ideation. My mom went to the extent to get an emergency passport and took off from both of her jobs for a week in order to be by my side in London. Just the sight of my mom coming out of her airport gate at London Heathrow lifted my spirits. My study abroad advisor from UNC, Ben Briggs, was there for me for additional support while I was abroad. He encouraged me to stay in the program because he believed that I would get better. He encouraged me to go to a hospital when I was seriously considering ending my life. I learned that I have a huge support system. I learned who my true friends are. I learned that there are good people in the world who will be there for me, even in the lowest point of my life. Some people who I had known for one month were by my side through my crisis, and my support system from home was there despite the 4,000 mile distance. The study abroad department at King's College London was there for me, and went above and beyond to make sure I was okay. I learned how scary mental illness can be. I persevered and made it through all of my classes. I was still depressed, but the fact that I made it that far was encouraging. I was approved for mitigating circumstances for my exams at King's, which meant that I could take my exams through alternative measures. This allowed me to go home early, so that I wouldn't have to stay during the break period before the examination period. Being back home made me feel like I could breathe again. I could see my family and friends. I could go to the campus that I know so well again. I could start taking steps to get better. Taking the necessary steps to start getting better brought more and more joy to my life as time passed. At the beginning of this process, I learned that getting better requires work. Now that I am back, nearly 8 months after my personal crisis, I am a better person than I was before I left to study abroad. Hitting the lowest point in my life led to me to live a better life than I have ever experienced. Studying abroad changed my life in ways that I never heard of before I departed. It shaped me into the person that I am today. Reflecting on every single moment I spent abroad shows me how strong I am as a person. I learned that life is filled with both good times and bad. I learned that it is possible to make it through the hardest times of your life. These experiences ignited my passion for mental health awareness. I learned how to take the symptoms of my mental illness and look at the positive sides of how this disorder makes me who I am. My experience abroad was the most life changing experience of my life. And it is all for the best.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories from London was riding in the Tube. I was able to hear so many different languages, accents, conversations, etc. I was able to see and meet so many different people on the Tube. I was able to go to so many places without having to drive a car. Living in a huge city was a neat experience.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
I advise all future study abroad students to have a mental check in before they decide to go abroad. Outweigh the pros and cons carefully. Be mindful of any doubts that arise. Be prepared to have a life changing experience. Life is going to change. Be prepared to adjust. Embrace everything you experience, good or bad. Go into the experience with an open mind and positive vibes, but be aware that not every moment of studying abroad is amazing.


Would you do it again?
I would do it again. During my struggles, I regretted going abroad. Now that I am back and in a much better place, I am thankful that I got to have the experience of studying abroad. I am thankful for the better life that I have because of this experience. I don't regret going abroad, but I would love to have more life changing experiences abroad now that I am in a better place.


How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
My classes felt much easier at King's College than they did at UNC. They met less often and had less assignments. For example, one of my classes had two essays, each worth half of your final mark. I didn't feel the need to study daily at KCL like I do at UNC.


How do you identify?
Student with a disability


Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
My mental illness made it hard for me to adjust and feel settled to London.


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
Don't let your mental illness discourage you. You can make it through any experience you have, whether at home or abroad.


If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
There was so much support for me while I was abroad. I turned to my support system at home, which included my study abroad advisor at UNC. I turned to a support system abroad as well. This support system included a therapist, psychiatrist, the study abroad department, friends, and doctors in the hospital when I was admitted.