Study Abroad Style Diary: The Beginning

Part 1 of a college student’s study abroad diary. Follow her during her first week of studying abroad in London.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you purchase through our links. Please read our full disclosure here.

London phone booth
Pexels

I was so excited when I received positive feedback on my “What Do I Wear There? Study Abroad” series, especially since it is so pertinent to my life right now. As those of you who followed the columns may know, I am currently studying abroad in London, land of adorable accents, Cadbury chocolates (yum!), and of course, impeccable fashion.

For this new series, I will give you my first-hand perspective on how style factors into my study abroad experience. From trying to find the best sales in London to being inspired by new trends as I travel, I’ll document it all. Whether you are studying abroad, planning to study abroad, or just want to read about a fellow fashionista’s experience abroad, I hope you will find this series informative and fun.

(To read more about study abroad fashion, check out the great post-study abroad reflection article, “What I Learned Abroad,” by Tiffany.)

Preparation

When I wrote my initial Study Abroad post about essentials, I had not yet started to pack. Therefore, while I still stand by the advice I gave, I now want to point out that packing is much, much tougher than I had expected!

I ended up spreading nearly my entire wardrobe out in my basement, sorting clothes first into “yes,” “no,” and “maybe” piles and then sorting them again by “day looks,” “class looks,” “going out looks,” etc. While this may sound sort of extensive (okay…very extensive), I swear it helped me choose the best possible wardrobe for fourth months that would still fit in two suitcases!

Settling Down in “Londontown”

London from my airplane window

As prepared as I believed I was, nothing could truly prepare me for how mind-blowing it was to hug my friends and family goodbye, step on a plane, and suddenly be living a completely different life on a new time schedule and continent!

Fashion included, my first week or so was focused simply on adjusting. Not knowing exactly what to wear only heightened my anxiety in the beginning–I was afraid I was going to look too “American”, sticking out when all I wanted to do was be comfortable and “fit in” in my new environment.

However, I quickly realized how unreasonable my thinking was. Fashion, at least for me, has never really been about “fitting in”–it’s always been about expressing myself and my personal style. Living in London did not mean that my style had to change! As soon as I got my confidence back, it automatically became easier for me to start adjusting to my new home as me, not some scared student trying to blend in.

As I’ve quickly realized, people here in England–as well, I’m sure, as people in most modern cities across the world–respect individuality and like seeing people have fun with their fashion. And they are all so inspiring themselves! From the inherently chic college students to the incredibly sophisticated and distinguished adults strolling the streets, London’s citizens seem to ooze a refined style that is both innovative and classic at the same time. Much like the city itself, style here is all about combining the old fashioned favorites with new, modern pieces.

After just two weeks, I have already been inspired to try out new looks and have even created a “shopping wish list” a mile long!

Although I am now comfortable expressing my own unique style in London, this does not render my earlier “Study Abroad” posts useless–I still think it is important to heed the cultural norms of an area when choosing your look. As much as I am an advocate for individual style, it is nonetheless vital to know what level of “dressing up” is expected in a country in order to be respectful of your new environment. Striving for balance between the two, I have realized, is key.

Traveling Tips and Tricks

I’d like to end each of these posts with some tips and tricks I have learned from my own successes and mistakes abroad. These tips should help you save money, stay safe, and have fun while you’re traveling!

  • Get a Student Discount Card: This is one of the smartest things you can do before traveling anywhere in Europe. I have an ISIC card, which gets me discounts on everything from Topshop purchases to Eurostar tickets. For less than $20, the ISIC card will save you hundreds of dollars while you’re abroad. To get one, simply go to myISIC.com, register, and they will send it to you!
  • Plan Ahead: For the cheapest travel fares, it is vital to plan ahead. The closer you get to your departure date, the more expensive the tickets will be. They literally go up in price each day! So if you are looking to save some money, figure out when you want to travel as early as possible and book those tickets fast!
  • Be a Tourist: Even though attempting to assimilate with a new culture is a huge part of going abroad, give yourself some time in the beginning to just be a tourist. As exciting as it is to find your own local gems, most famous sites are famous for a reason and deserve a visit or two. Don’t feel like your new European address makes you “too cool” to check out Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower (and take a cheesy picture or two)! This includes shopping–as amazing as it is to find the perfect vintage store in that little town nearby, it’s also worthwhile to check out Topshop (if you’re in London) and other local chain stores, especially now when they are having winter sales!
  • Be Careful: Not to get all preachy but as someone new to the area and country, it’s important to remember to be very careful, especially at night. Obviously the lowered drinking age plays a major role in the weekend study abroad excursions for Americans, and this can be very dangerous if you are not careful. I have already seen some girls get themselves into unsafe and uncomfortable situations here and it really is not something you want to be a part of. Remember, it doesn’t matter how great your outfit is–an out-of-control, sloppily drunk demeanor is never stylish.

What Do You Think?

Do you have any other helpful tips for studying abroad? Is this a series you would like to see more of? What else would you like me to focus on? Can you relate to my experiences? Let us know in the comments!

20 thoughts on “Study Abroad Style Diary: The Beginning”

  1. Hey guys!

    Thanks for all of the positive feedback and tips–I’ll have to check out Brick Lane ASAP!

    Miranda–Choosing bags is difficult if you’re a bit nervous about theft (like any responsible traveler would be). My suggestion is to go for a bag you can keep as close to your body as possible and that fully closes all the wall. I have an across the body bag that I tend to rest my right hand on when I walk, as well as a couple shoulder bags that I make sure are zipped and hug closely to me.

    If you’re especially worried, they do have sort of “bag alarms” here that a policeman told my program about. Basically, you clip one end of a device to your coat, pants, etc and the other to your bag. If someone tries to run off with your bag, a tab will pull off when it disconnects from you and an alarm will sound. Just be careful if you get this that you always remember it is on so you do not set it off yourself!

    Best of luck on your travels!

    Reply
  2. ahhh… you are so lucky to be studying abroad in good ol’ Londontown! I really loved your suggestions and thoughts on studying abroad, I can’t wait to read even more about your adventures!

    Reply
  3. Cadbury’s chocolate is originally Irish =P
    Great post, London is a beautiful city.
    If you get a chance, make sure to take the Open top tour bus on a sunny day. The scenes are fantastic. Plus I managed to get a lovely tan while on it!

    Reply
  4. Sabiha is so right, in London you can wear pretty much any crazy thing you like, most British have an unusual appreciation and love of eccentricity. Just be ready to laugh about everything, and don’t take yourself too seriously!

    To Miranda- you imagine correctly, the cutting of bag straps is fairly common here, but if you fancy a cross body bag get one with a chain strap, which as a plus looks great too. Also if someone asks you for the time, theres a good chance they are planning on snatching your phone, not sure if its the same in other places, but just say no if you dont have a watch.

    I can’t believe I’m just hearing about Cadbury being Irish- my family is descended from George Cadbury 🙂

    Reply
  5. London <3 one of the most beautiful cities in the world! I LOVE your articles Colleen!

    Okay, offtopic, but I really have problems right now choosing the right major. I&#039m thinking about either choosing liberal arts (german literature) or law.

    I&#039m more interested in liberal arts, but I&#039m quite afraid that it is very difficult now finding a good job with a liberal arts degree, so I&#039m considering law, which is my second choice.

    I&#039d be really grateful if somebody, who has experience in either major could give me some tips. =)

    Love, Kaya

    Reply
  6. I’m new to your blog after having been linked here via Livejournal.
    I just wanted to compliment you on this entry. Having studied abroad myself already, the tips aren’t particularly useful to me but i know that the knowledge you are passing on to your readers is invaluable.

    I’m a Londoner and look forward to seeing how my city influences your style. (I love the way you described the English style, tradition mixed with new).

    Reply
  7. I’m so glad you’re at London (you’re so lucky), I would like to study in London when I’m in collage, so I would like you write about how does people treat you since you arrived

    Reply

Leave a Comment