The University of Iowa

Student Reflections on Diversity Abroad: England

April 24th, 2020
Kevin McKee in front of Tower Bridge, London

My name is Kevin McKee and I am a junior in the Tippie College of Business, majoring in finance.  With the assistance of a Diversity Ambassador Scholarship, I had the opportunity to study abroad in London, England, for two weeks over the 2020 winter break. This trip was easily my favorite experience in college so far. 

As someone who has never been outside the United States before and must manage a chronic medical condition, I was a little nervous and had no idea what to expect during my time in London.  I had heard that it would likely be rainy and cloudy every single day, and that the British people were not as welcoming to Americans.  Once I got to London, however, I quickly and happily realized both of those expectations were very wrong.  Even though it was winter, we were extremely fortunate to have many sunny days with only a little rain during the entire two weeks.  The British people were extremely friendly and were curious about where I was from in America, since they could immediately tell that I was American from my accent.  When I told them I was from Chicago, they often asked about my study abroad experience in London.

Learning how to use the Tube, which is their subway, was one of the major challenges that I had to face as soon as I got to London.  Right after landing at Heathrow, I had to use the Tube to get to my flat in the city, so I was immediately forced to figure out how to navigate the various lines and stops with my Oyster card, which is what they call the pass to ride the Tube.  Luckily, I was able to learn my way around the Tube quickly because they had maps that were extremely easy to read, along with an app I could use on my phone.  This was important because the Tube was my main method of transportation to explore the sights of London.   Even though the Tube was extremely helpful for navigating London, we frequently walked just to enjoy the scenery and see new things.  While on the way to the Churchill War Museum, we accidentally came across Trafalgar Square.  We also spent time in the area known as Piccadilly Circus which is their equivalent to New York City’s Times Square.  Both areas were fascinating to experience since they are iconic London spots and were packed with both tourists and locals.

I was expecting to get homesick to some extent while in London, but once I got there I felt right at home with the British people.

I had heard a lot that the food in England was average and was nothing special.  However, I don’t think I had a bad meal once over the entire trip.  Since we didn’t want to cook but preferred to explore what London had to offer, we ate at a variety of restaurants around the city that had fantastic food.  I was surprised at how much higher quality and healthier all the food in London is, especially the fast food restaurants.  They use a lot fewer preservatives in their food, so even McDonald’s tasted healthier.  My flatmates and I frequently went to a pub near our flat called “London Pub” that served great food and was always a great spot to hang out with other study abroad students.

Even though I wish I could have stayed longer than the two weeks, I felt like I learned a lot about England and the British culture.  Being able to live, study, and explore in the heart of London really gave me the opportunity to constantly be surrounded by London citizens and see how they go about life compared to life back in the U.S. and Iowa City.  One interesting and amazing thing I realized within my first few days in London was that a lot of the people can speak a variety of languages in addition to English.  My friend and I went to a local coffee shop one morning and hearing the workers switch languages effortlessly was something I have never really experienced back home.  It made me realize how important it is to be able to communicate effectively in our global society.  I also had the unique opportunity to attend a Premier League soccer game in the 2012 London Olympics stadium and experience just how important soccer is to the British people.  We were able to watch West Ham beat Bournemouth 4-0 on New Year’s Day which was easily one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.

Just when I started to feel like a local, my time in London was over.  Overall, I learned that I love to visit foreign places and that I can manage my medical condition even when I am far from home.  I was expecting to get homesick to some extent while in London, but once I got there I felt right at home with the British people.  Traveling alone to a foreign country, exploring a foreign city, eating new food, and seeing historical sites I had always heard about was eye-opening and amazing.  If my trip to London taught me one thing, it is that I would love to travel overseas again and experience another new city and culture. 


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