Written by Engel Yue.

College is a time of firsts. For most, it’s the first time you’re away from home for months on end, the first time you choose what to eat for every single meal ever single day, and the first time that you’re in control of what you do on the daily. If you think about it – or if you’ve lived it – you can see how it’s pretty daunting… I know it definitely was for me, no matter how independent I thought I was before.

For me, I am among the first of my class to go to college. I am spending my first full semester abroad. I am living alone and traveling in Europe for the first time. Firsts, firsts, firsts.

Fortunately, my firsts don’t stop there.

From my time here in London, with about three quarters of the time gone, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s to make the most out of the opportunities I’m given. I have never been afraid to pursue my passions, so long as I knew what I wanted, but in a sense, that mentality can be limiting. I had become too accustomed to seeking a singular path and focusing my attention on it solely. I never allowed myself to deviate from its perfect pavement in order to explore other interests and possibilities.

Ever since I can remember, my biggest priority was to strive for academic excellence. What they don’t tell you is that life doesn’t always need to be centered around academics. Sometimes I still find myself struggling with the notion that it’s okay to take an art class for fun and not for the purpose of fulfilling a requirement or that it’s completely fine to go out with friends on a Tuesday night. Studying is definitely important for success, but trust me, from someone who’s focused too much on “work hard” and too little on “play hard”, life like that is not  as fun.

So, for the past couple months, I’ve been trying to practice the fun part because I don’t want to waste the  time I have left here in the United Kingdom. My time left in London is short, and as we all know – time is money – so my goals for a the typical week encompass activities that are productive, fun-filled, and adventurous.

I’ve discovered that a great way to find firsts and to actually commit to trying them out is to simply sign up and (in the words of Nike), “just do it”! About a third into our time here, London Student Central (a kind of student union for all the London universities) hosted a club rush. At the end of the day, I walked out as an associate member of both the University of London’s Fencing and Polo Club. Now this wasn’t my first time fencing, but polo was definitely something foreign to a Sacramento gal like me. Though it is a tad difficult to juggle those extracurriculars with schoolwork and traveling, especially when travel to the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club takes more than an hour one-way, this is a prime example of carpe diem-ing the fullness of studying abroad. If I didn’t go for it, I might have missed the best chance to do something like this in all my life.

Playing Polo on Ponies – a first for two Cal Bears!

Another great thing about looking for first experiences in London is the vast number of events that the city hosts. From primetime musicals to seasonal festivities, there’s no reason not to go out! Specifically for me, I had always wanted to go to a concert, but never got around to doing it before. Because I was playing Youngblood on repeat during the summer, when I got to London, I simply Googled “5 Seconds of Summer” and after this past Monday, I am proud to say that I’ve checked off another item on my bucket list. Who knew rockin’ out with 4000+ other fans in a venue could be so fun!?

There really is so much to do and so much to try when you study abroad. But, that’s not to say that these opportunities aren’t available wherever you find yourself, whether it be at Cal or at home. Take a few minutes out of your day, go network, find your passions, and try something new. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your next or best first. As for me, I can’t wait to try my next first!


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