Episode 66 │ An Unexplainable Vibe (LONDON)
"I didn't know how to get out... Then I secured this opportunity to come here, and I just knew that it was what I was supposed to be doing." (Paige, Episode 66)
When I was thinking of guests to interview for the second half of 2020, there were a handful of people I contacted just to see what would happen. Paige Mariah is one of those people. She's a digital content creator who moved to London, England for graduate school at the beginning of 2019, and has been using her YouTube channel (also called "Paige Mariah") to document her journey. Her videos appeared in my YouTube recommendations around the same time that she relocated, and so I've been subscribed to her channel since the beginning of this particular chapter of her life. I've been incredibly inspired by Paige's openness, warmth, sense of humor, and ever-expanding willingness to take risks, and I thought it'd be fun to talk to her about her study abroad experience on the podcast. I was also encouraged by the relatively small degree of separation we seemed to have (she's close friends with Hope Robinson from episode 7, who I was pleasantly surprised to see in a good number of Paige's videos). So I was elated when Paige responded to my initial email saying she'd love to be a guest on Young, Gifted and Abroad!
Paige is from Chicago and has often mentioned online how much she loves her city and her close-knit family there. At the same time, there were notable occasions where she felt the impulse to get away from home. Despite her mom's initial resistance, Paige moved to Virginia to pursue her bachelor's degree at Hampton University because she wanted that HBCU (historically Black college or university) experience and a change of scenery. Directly after graduating from Hampton she got a full-time job back in her hometown, and four years later she couldn't ignore the feeling that she needed to be doing something else. While other people in her life were taking major risks, following their dreams, and even relocating to new places (including her then-boyfriend who moved to West Africa with the Peace Corps), Paige felt like she was at a standstill. Instead of continuing to be comfortable yet dissatisfied with her life and work situation, she asked herself, "Okay, Paige. What are you going to do for yourself now?" And then London came to mind.
Since graduating from college, Paige had started traveling internationally with her family, including a very significant trip to London and Paris in 2016. She fell in love with London during that trip, and when I asked what about the city appealed to her so much, she couldn't quite pinpoint it. She mentioned the "unexplainable" vibe London has, and how being there has always made her feel alive. She loves the way the city looks, and how creative and motivated she feels there. After that first visit, Paige briefly looked into options for graduate school in London. She knew for a while that she wanted to get her master's degree at some point, but she'd been stalling on it and also felt like moving to the UK for grad school was too unrealistic for her. So she set the idea aside. But her boyfriend's move to West Africa had her re-contemplating her own dreams, so she started researching again in earnest while at work. She didn't get the chance to study abroad when she was at Hampton because it didn't feel like the right time, so now would be her chance.
Although Paige was ready for a change, as someone who values her parents' opinions she wanted them to understand and support her London plans. So, armed with all the research she'd done, she pitched it to them and they were incredibly supportive. She was particularly surprised by her mom's enthusiasm ("Go for it!"), since her mom had previously wanted her to stay in Illinois for college in the interest of keeping close to family. But her mom was apparently convinced that Paige was serious about this new venture and knew what she was talking about. After Paige applied and was accepted into the Master's in Strategic Marketing program at the University of Greenwich, her parents helped her prepare for the move and even walked her into the airport on the day of her departure in January 2019.
Adjusting to life in London was one challenge, and being back in school again was yet another. Paige basically had to learn to study all over again, and she struggled at first. However, she eventually found her stride thanks to extensive Googling, utilizing her lecturers' office hours, seeing an academic writing tutor, and doing whatever else she could because "I didn't come all the way here to fail. Like, that's not gonna happen." She finished classes in July of last year, successfully submitted her master's dissertation (earning an A and completing her degree) in January 2020, and then graduated with merit via a virtual ceremony in July of this year. And while she's proud of what she's achieved and believes education is priceless, she is firm about being absolutely DONE with school.
On the social side of things, Paige found it difficult to be by herself so much more in London compared to being around so many familiar people all the time in Chicago. Additionally, interacting with mainly other foreign or international people means that she's had to get used to friends leaving to return to their home countries. Nonetheless, she's still managed to form solid friendships. The University of Greenwich is known for its high international student population, and all but one of the students in Paige's program were from countries other than the UK. She and her classmates bonded quickly since "we all needed people", and they often went on adventures together, exploring London and even traveling to Scotland. Last summer Paige moved off campus and into a flat in a different part of town so she could feel truly immersed in the London lifestyle, and her roommate has become one of her closest friends.
Of course, social media and YouTube have been tremendous in helping Paige meet new people as well. She told me that she didn't initially set out to be "a Youtuber"—she's just always enjoyed creating content online, ever since she started blogging in high school. She's been on YouTube since 2015 and the focus of her videos has shifted from fashion to fitness to grad school and expat life. She's grateful that more people (178,000 subscribers at the time of this writing) have continued to watch and support her as she's experimented with new things and her channel has changed. Connecting to people through YouTube and Instagram especially has not only helped her hone her career as a content creator, but has also helped her find community in her favorite city and current home.
"I'm no one special"
Though her master's program has ended, Paige isn't moving back to the States anytime soon. She secured a start-up visa earlier this year, which extends her stay in London for another two years! She used to think her dreams of being an entrepreneur were unrealistic. But pitching her business idea in the University of Greenwich's "Enterprise Challenge" and participating in the university's training bootcamps helped her feel prepared to thoroughly lay out her business plan as part of her start-up visa application. She hasn't discussed her business idea publicly just yet, but will be sure to announce it when she's ready.
Part of the reason why Paige came to the UK was that she wanted to come away from this experience with more than just the master's degree. With a goal of visiting at least 15 new European countries, in 2019 she traveled extensively both solo and with friends, classmates, or even folks from Chicago who came to visit her. She's made peace with taking precaution and not traveling like she used to until 2021, but when I spoke to her she was still hoping to see her family at some point in 2020. In the meantime, she's focused on enjoying her life, maintaining her hard-won journey of self-love, and continuing to share her experiences through her content. She wants people to take in the lessons she's learned, and her number one goal is to inspire people to take a chance on themselves. She insists that, "I'm no one special when it comes to this. Anybody can do what I'm doing right now, you just really have to believe in yourself." Paige can be found via her YouTube channel (Paige Mariah), and @paige_mariah on Instagram and Twitter.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "An Unexplainable Vibe (LONDON)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.