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.

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London phone booth

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.)


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, 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. 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!

  2. cool view of london! i like that you pointed out sloppy drunken demeanor as being un-stylish… you are completely right.

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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

  5. 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).

  6. 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

  7. I love this post! It’s wonderful! And I have to chime in that there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist, there IS a reason those places are famous! I love London, and all it’s clothes – I lived there myself for 1 and half years and its really a wonderful place, I really hope you enjoy yourself there, it’s really an awesome city! And hehe, do check out all those famous sites – even when I was fully LIVING there I loved to go visit them, every time I used to go to pick my Dad up I remember the best thing sitting on the train was seeing Big Ben and the London Eye from my window, and take advantage of the tube station and buses!

  8. Hey guys…Me and my friends are going to London this Summer …And we want to know which shops/ thrift shops are worth visiting…Thanks.

  9. Great Post
    I live in London anything you wear in this city will work, people wear everything and anything here. If you go to other parts of England or the suburbs of London you have to be more conservative in your dressing. if anyone needs advice on LDN just let me know!

  10. hi! in the first paragrapg when u talked about saying goodbye to your friends and family, if you thought that was hard, u have no idea of its gonna be when u say goodbye to your new friends and your favorite places, same happened to me when I was an exchange student in USA… have lots of fun!

  11. SO glad I found these! Im studying abroad in the fall and knew CF would have them. However I hope you guys do an updated one soon! Maybe include what kind of bag is the best to bring, and shoe essentials? Both of these take up a lot of room in suitcases especially for fashionistas like ourselves!

  12. You’re so lucky! I lived in London from for 6yrs (my dad’s job required a lot of traveling) and moved to the states when I was 15. I miss it so much and I have several tips for you. I would definitely recommend shopping in Oxford Street… it has the most amazing clothes. Also be sure to check out Kingston on Thames… if for no other reason then just to sit peacefully on the river bank for a few hours and who knows maybe it’ll bring out the kid in you and urge you to feed the ducks 🙂 My sister (who at the time was in the Imperial London College) would vouch for the clubbing in West London. And since you mentioned the touristy stuff… don’t buy a sightseeing cruise or ticket for the London Eye individually… at the risk of being ripped off! You can buy a joint package for much less when you buy a ticket for the London Eye. Also… if you’re going to be traveling out of London… check out the Oracle Shopping Center in Reading and as for those vintage clothes stores and one of a kind souvenirs.. go to Bath. You can also see some great roman baths and historical places while in Bath!
    Hope you find this useful.
    P.S. Get an oyster card… if you haven’t already! Public Transportation costs add up really fast. Under 16’s got to go free so I never had the problem but as the younger sister of 2 over-18 siblings… i know the pain!

  13. Excellent timing on this post – I’m studying abroad in Spain this semester, and I leave in four days!

    So anyway, I know Spain and England are not really that similar, obvi, but I was hoping you could tell me what style of purse you carry around with you to look cute but avoid any would-be purse snatchers.

    I’ve heard cross-body bags are the best, since people can’t just grab them off your arm (and they’re really cute! win-win situation!)… but it seems like someone could just come up from behind and cut the strap, and then book it, or something. Then again maybe I just have an over-active imagination? Hah, anyway, thanks for the advice!

  14. Great tips. My #1 advice would just be to GO! I talked to so many of my college friends who thought it would be too expensive, they didn’t have the time, it wouldn’t fit in with their major, they’d miss everyone back home too much, etc. etc. My study abroad (in London) was hands-down the best experience of my college career, if not my entire life thus far! I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and if I had it do over again, I’d go back just the same. Twice.


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