Cara Navarro '20 spent the fall semester of her junior year studying abroad at University College London (UCL). She lived in Kings Cross, a bustling district in central London.
“I wasn’t originally going to do it. I’ve already lived abroad!” she says. However, after talking with her major advisor, she realized that the experience could add a new perspective to her coursework. Cara is majoring in the Growth and Structure of Cities and realized that studying abroad could help her learn more about European cities.
Growth and Structure of Cities is an interdisciplinary major that challenges students to understand the dynamic relationship of urban spatial organization and the built environment to politics, economics, cultures, and societies.
Originally from Manila, Philippines, Cara was excited to live in a city again. She picked UCL specifically because of their urban planning program.
“My classes at Bryn Mawr really did prepare me to take planning classes because I had that base of urban theory. I didn’t have the policy background, but I had the theory. And the writing skills!
“This major can prepare you for a lot of different things,” says Cara. “Bryn Mawr doesn’t have specific planning classes, but obviously it’s a natural fit between planning and cities, so I wanted to try it out.” Cara realized planning is probably not for her, but she does not regret trying it out. “Now I know! Because I went to UCL for a semester.”
In addition to trying out a new field, Cara also learned about living alone.
“Because I’ve lived abroad before, I went into it thinking it would be the same. But it’s a totally different experience when you’re alone without your family. It’s a lot more intense.”
Cara found herself startled by seemingly minor aspects of daily life. “Shopping really surprised me. It’s so simple, but I didn’t know where to get things. I would walk into Tesco expecting to be able to find cups, because you can find cups in American supermarkets, but you just can’t find cups at a Tesco. And that’s so weird to me!”
Cara was familiar with many of the differences between American and British colleges because she has many friends from home who study full time in England. Even though she was prepared, she did take some time to adjust to the differences between Bryn Mawr and UCL.
“I really missed the attention that Bryn Mawr professors give you. I missed being taken seriously.”
UCL is significantly larger than Bryn Mawr. While the difference in size meant Cara was receiving less individualized attention from professors than she has at Bryn Mawr, she realized that the research environment at large schools like UCL really interests her. “I’ll definitely consider grad school in London,” she says.
The social aspect of life at UCL was also different than at Bryn Mawr. “At Bryn Mawr, you have random social interactions throughout the day; you bump into people and say 'hey,' and you always have people to eat dinner with. At UCL, it was so much harder. I only saw people if I wanted to run into them. It’s harder to find your people at a big school.”
Despite being in a new social atmosphere, Cara quickly made friends in London. “Another Bryn Mawr student met a girl from Wellesley, and she knew a girl from Mount Holyoke, and then there was this other girl from Wellesley, too. We all became a squad—it happened so randomly, and it was so lucky.”
When Cara left UCL, she was sad to leave her new friends, the independence, and the public transportation system.
“I couldn’t believe I had to go back to my regular life. I thought everything would be really dull after I left London. But then when I came back, I realized that there were so many little things about Bryn Mawr that I really missed.”
As Cara looks back on her time in London, she is thankful and reflective.
“It definitely made me appreciate Bryn Mawr more, but it also gave me the confidence in myself to know that I can leave Bryn Mawr and still be okay. I grew up a lot.”