Ayah ElGaddal (international relations major), a Diversity Ambassador Scholarship recipient (now the Global Access Ambassador Scholarship), participated in the Lancaster University Exchange program in fall 2023.
Friday, February 16, 2024
Ayah ElGaddal

If I said this was my first time abroad, I would be lying, but I can definitely say that it was one of the most treasured and cherished moments of my life. I don’t think putting this study abroad experience into words could truly capture the essence of the time I spent in England. 

My name is Ayah ElGaddal, a senior at Iowa studying international relations on the pre-law track, and in fall 2023, I studied abroad at Lancaster University in England for a semester. The main reason why I picked my program was because of my desire to visit Europe, to take more classes related to my major, which were not offered at the University of Iowa, and experience “student life” in an English university. And to be honest, I don’t think I could have made a better decision than this during my four years at the University of Iowa. 

Lancaster, as a city, is pretty similar to Iowa City in terms of it being sort of a college town. Because of that, the city itself did not have many recreational activities as the ones that cities like Manchester, London, or Liverpool would offer. However, it was a very diverse region; I think it was one of the most diverse places I’ve been to because it was filled with students coming from all over the world – including Indonesia, Australia, Spain, and Algeria. Learning to accustom myself to a different culture, the English culture among many other cultures, was definitely a challenge but also a source of enrichment and personal growth. This is because I got to learn bits and pieces about many cultures and countries and contrast them to my own, fostering a deeper understanding of the world and its myriad of perspectives. 

One of the challenges I faced (I would not consider it a major challenge) was the accents and getting comfortable with it. I am only used to the American accent, so trying to communicate with the English accent sometimes threw me off guard because I could not understand what was being said. This is because, depending on where the person is from, some English accents are stronger than others, and because of that, I felt like the words were just merging together when being spoken, so I would have to take a step back and ask the person I was speaking to repeat the words to understand what was being said. Other times, the words I was saying, because of my accent, would be heard differently by the person I was talking to. So overall, trying to decipher the English accent had been a transforming time for me, and now, I’ve picked up on a lot of English words and added them to my dictionary. My favorite phrase I learned being, “See it. Say it. Sorted. 

"You are experiencing new things for the first time, whether it be learning to be alone or learning to communicate with other people while still maintaining your own balance. All of those things can be thrown at you at once, and knowing how to navigate it was one the most valuable and biggest lessons that I’ve learned throughout my trip."

Another challenge I would say, as everybody would complain, was the amount of walking. Unlike the U.K., the U.S. is more of a ‘drivable’ area, if you can drive, then you would rather take your car and go. But, in the U.K., the roads are super narrow, they would barely fit a Dodge van. When my father and I arrived in Manchester, we decided to rent a car and drive around the city; it was a good decision in that my dad is not a fan of public transportation, but bad in that we got the car almost awfully scratched several times because of how narrow the roads were especially when going up the ramps. And so, because of that, people usually walk or rely on public transportation. I personally preferred to walk as much as I could to actually experience the countryside of Lancaster, but it was definitely not easy (I did complain about every other step, though). It was not a flat land, so we had to walk up hills quite a lot. Even my dorm was the furthest from the main area of the university – about a 20-minute walk. And so, I easily averaged 12k steps a day. There were also times when I would simply opt to walk rather than using public transportation because you experience more since you get to take in things more personally. 

When I was in London, I visited a lot of the major streets of London such as Piccadilly Street and Oxford Street. When I visited, it was Black Friday. I never thought that Black Friday would be a major celebration in the U.K. simply because we associate it with Thanksgiving in the U.S. and Thanksgiving is not celebrated in the U.K. But I was mistaken. The streets were so packed from beginning to end that it was sometimes hard to walk. It was bustling with music, street vendors, and the infamous London lights.  I even ended up walking about 40 minutes back to my hotel because all of the tubes and buses were packed. Another time, my friend and I went to Cambridge, but because we had an early train to catch and no public transportation was available (because they start operating at 7 a.m.), we had to speed walk for 50 minutes to reach the train station from our hotel. But it was one the most beautiful walks we had as the streets were empty and the sun was just rising. 

Throughout these trips, the one thing I gained was to learn to be comfortable with yourself as well as your decisions. Sometimes, the decisions or things you want may not happen or go the way you imagined it, but that’s alright! You are experiencing new things for the first time, whether it be learning to be alone or learning to communicate with other people while still maintaining your own balance. All of those things can be thrown at you at once, and knowing how to navigate it was one the most valuable and biggest lessons that I’ve learned throughout my trip.  

But most of all, learning how to take comfort and peace in any act that I did – whether it was walking, or making noodles at 2 a.m. or brewing some tea with my flatmates (who I loved so much <3) was what brought me a sense of calmness and safety throughout my trip.  

What I wrote here honestly merely scratches the surface of the amount of experiences, lessons, and trips I’ve made over these past few months. I have done so much, I have enjoyed so much, and I would never trade this experience for anything else. That is why I am really thankful to my department and professors who encouraged me to do this, because it really is a meaningful experience that has the potential to change you as a person! 


The Global Access Ambassador Scholarship program provides awards to study abroad for a summer, semester, or academic year. The scholarships are intended to support students who study abroad with the intent to serve as Global Access Ambassadors upon return to the UI campus. Upon completion of the study abroad program and return to UI, award recipients are asked to submit a photo and an open letter to prospective students or suggest an alternate means of sharing with prospective students.

Please note that the opinions and views expressed by ambassadors are solely those of the students and do not reflect or represent the views of International Programs or the University of Iowa.


International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement.  IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.