As I am preparing to participate in my third study abroad trip to London, I think back on what I learned from those experiences. Here are my 8 tips
One: Be flexible
First, I learned to be flexible. In London, as in other places as well I’m sure, the weather doesn’t always cooperate with what you want to do outdoors. For instance, one day I had planned to take my public speaking class to a park a few blocks from the university to give one of their impromptu speeches. However, the weather did not cooperate so I had to come up with an in-class activity which happened within the confines of the actual classroom. They did get to give their impromptu speeches in the park, but it was a few days later. Just like at home, you have to go with the flow. Don’t get too stuck in the plans you had to see the possibilities ahead.
Two: Be innovative
Second, think outside the box for your field trips. With my public speaking class I tend to take them to places where there will be a guide so they are able to experience different types of speeches. This is great because it’s a different way for them to learn what makes a good and bad speech. I also include going to the theatre, not simply because they are giving a form of what could be considered a speech, but to broaden their horizons and to provide a cultural experience. For many students this is not only the first time they’ve left their home state, but the first time they’ve left the country. For my crisis communication class we visited a public relations firm who graciously hosted us and provided students the opportunity to see how a firm operated. I also took these students for tea and scones prior to a trip to the theatre – both cultural experiences that had nothing to do with a crisis.
Three: Be prepared
Third, I learned to be prepared. If possible, walk the route to a field trip prior to taking your students on the same journey. It’s a bit embarrassing to get lost or have to ask for directions. With that, always have a plan b. In London there are times when certain routes of the Underground may be out of service so you’ll need to know an alternate way to get to your destination.
Four: Be Open
Fourth, I learned to be willing to learn from the students. Many of the students will partake in activities I (or you) would likely not engage, but there are others you may. Be willing to listen to what they have experienced to determine if it’s something you may also want to experience. I visited a few local markets on the recommendations of students and was so glad I did as I was able to interact with the local community and purchase art to bring home, as well as try different foods.
Fifth, explore. Whether it’s on your own, with the other professors in the program, or with some of your students, explore the city you are in. Sometimes taking a wrong turn can lead you to something you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Sixth, embrace the culture. Try to steer clear of the American restaurants like McDonald’s, Subway, etc. and eat the local fare whether it’s from a pub, local restaurant, or market. Depending on how long you are out of America, you may long for the comforts of home on of the American chains can provide, but embracing the different places around you will make you long for it when you return home. Also take in the local entertainment – the theatre, the street performers (just watch your wallet), art museums, etc. The majority of the museums in London are free which is a great incentive to visit! Plus they have great gift shops too.
Seven: Make friends
Seventh, spend time with the other faculty in your study abroad program. Get to know them, spend time with them, go to the theatre, explore. Our group had faculty dinners every Tuesday which no one was required to attend, but the majority of us did. It provides an opportunity for you to relax and unwind, as well as discuss the field trips your classes have experienced, and any other important news updates. I also went on a few excursions with other faculty members to Cambridge, Bath and Oxford, as well as exploring the Greenwich and Portobello Road markets. I had a great time getting to know them while exploring and shopping. While I include going to the theatre for each of my classes as a field trip, I also attend other shows while in town with other professors. One year a colleague and I saw “Elephant Man” with Bradley Cooper and met him afterward. It’s something we still giggle about today.
Eight: Just do it
Finally, don’t be afraid to try. Apply for the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program. If you’re not accepted the first time, try again. I wasn’t accepted the first time I applied, but was the next. Try new things, new foods, new experiences. Go to a location for a field trip you think the students may enjoy and/or learn something. If you find out it’s not what you had hoped, cross it off the list for future study abroad trips. There have been a few flops for field trips, but they were an interesting experience none the less and I was able to turn them into learning opportunities for the students. For instance, we went on a guided tour at one museum and the tour guide was one of the worst (in my opinion, and the students) as he constantly read from the notebook in front of him and other times stared directly at some in our group waiting (or wanting) them to ask or answer questions. Back in the classroom we were able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of his presentations and what we would and would not want to emulate in our own speeches. One of my favorite places to take my public speaking students is to the Tower of London where The Beefeaters (guards) give historical tours of the Tower every half hour. While they are giving a manuscript speech, there are times when they go awry like the time our group witnessed a child aggravating one of the resident ravens and said raven pecking at the child. The guard began laughing, breaking character, and made a joke about the situation (there are signs everywhere telling patrons to leave the birds alone).
I hope you find my tips helpful and you find yourself studying abroad, or simply visiting, London be sure to take the Beefeaters tour at the Tower, and grab a pint and dinner at any of the many pubs in town. Cheers!
Michelle Groover is a senior lecturer in the Communication Arts Department at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, where she teaches public relations courses. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication from Regent University. Her research interests include crisis communication, popular culture, public relations, and social media. She loves traveling to London, eating in the local pubs, and going to the theatre.