I’ve been back in the States for about a week, and it’s been weird. My semester in London was a lot of things, and it changed my sleep schedule pretty dramatically as well as my opinions and outlook on the rest of my life. Everything before London was stable, secure, set in stone; everything now seems really really complicated.
I can’t quantify this semester and I don’t want to throw a bunch of adjectives at you (but if you were wondering, they’d be something like “awesome”, “life-changing”, “surprisingly clichéd”, and “misery-inducing once you’re home and realize how expensive flights to Europe are without a lifetime worth of airline miles”) so instead I’ll share a few anecdotes and insights that might sound familiar if you’ve ever had a similar experience.
Also—to make up for my lack of classic study abroad blog, I’m going to attempt to summarize in three posts. This is the first.
Let’s start with tea. It’s made in a kettle! I’m quite embarrassed to admit that I have made tea in the microwave for most of my life and will probably have to do so again when I move back to Boston and don’t own a kettle. After this semester, it’ll be years before I can afford one anyways or, for that matter, the bottom chunk of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Anyways, the best cup of tea of I’ve ever experienced was made by a Brit. It might have been the one with milk and three sugars in a student housing kitchen, it might have been no milk and one sugar in an off-the-grid house in Wales, and it might have been milk with no sugar in a small London flat, served in a Dr. Who mug with a slice of £3 red velvet cake from the co-op that defied all expectations and gave the best kind of sugar rush. I could easily say that Brits just know how to make a good cup of tea, or I could admit that I’ve perhaps idealized my tea experiences this semester because the times had were all so good. With tea, everything fit into place and my world away from home was close to perfect.
I seriously lucked out regarding my flatmates, eight proud residents of Pooley House #42, hailing from England, Wales, Spain, Finland, the US, and China (in order of proximity to London). It was the coolest thing to be able to discuss political issues of different countries, and gain a different perspective on everyday things. Some of my favorite memories are set in our small communal kitchen with a balcony we couldn’t access and a view of campus and a distant central London. Actually, the fact that we couldn’t get out on our balcony allowed our friends upstairs to litter it with whatever they found in their kitchen, and it was actually a lot of fun attempting to pick bagels up through a six-inch window gap with a vacuum cleaner. It was less fun when we couldn’t reach the raw chicken or plethora of beer cans. Thanks guys.
School itself was really interesting, both because of the systemic differences and because I got to study subjects I wouldn’t normally be able to in Boston. London Architecture from 1837 to Present, for instance, wouldn’t be the same without the field trips to different modern buildings, and my experience in London wouldn’t be the same without historical background for religious buildings, public housing, and Brutalist complexes. I got a chance to take a course in the School of Geography, which in the States would be Environmental Science, and Women and Gender in Late Medieval England; I’ll admit it was a bit trippy to think about the medieval period from a place that actually had a medieval period. Then there was the difference in grading system, which tends to stress out American students who are used to expecting a 90% for a good paper; in the UK university system, a 70% is something to be proud of. Those were interesting days.
Outside of school, I got to play water polo with the nicest and rowdiest group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with. I’m quite indebted to them for the sheer amount of kindness and acceptance they showed me, for letting me play in the first place and then including me in socials and the infamous tour. It makes such a difference to someone without close friends in a new city to be welcomed by a group, and this team seriously made a difference to my semester. They all make me so happy, and it’s a sobering thought that I’ll probably never play with–or in the case of Merger Cup, against–them again.
In the city itself, I enjoyed the free museums, picturesque canals, night buses, street markets, and historic parks and monuments that make London one of the most popular study abroad locations in the world. I only wish I’d done more in the city, though my bank account was already suffering with the dollar-pound exchange rate and my insatiable need to see the rest of Europe won some large chunks of my time (more on that later). I particularly loved the Victoria and Albert and Natural History Museums, which are conveniently close to one another (and to a good tea shop and pub, depending on your mood). Even back in Southern California, with the LA museums a quick drive or train ride away, I miss the V&A and have an illogical craving to roam its collections. Europe is really a playground for museum-lovers, and I’m happy to say I took full advantage of my location while I was there. I could wander those galleries for a considerable portion of my life.
I’ve learned a lot this semester, and every time I attempt to quantify it I come up with cliches and dramatic statements that sound hollow to my ears. Everyone tells you that study abroad is the “experience of a lifetime”. Buzzfeed has articles on why your study abroad friends are so awesome. Even potential candidates can look at the prospect of an overseas semester and assume, as I did, some of what will be learned. It was so much more. I’ll miss exploring new places with new people who would become some of my best friends, and I’ll miss being nudged out of my comfort zone to the point of, well, comfort. There was so much that I wrongly assumed, and not in any ways that I expected. If there’s one thing I can say with any confidence, it’s that there is so much more to know about the world. I think it’s good to have your opinions shaken up every once in a while because chances are, there’s something out there that can change your mind. That alone made this a worthwhile semester.
We joked that the sun never came out, that the prices were never good, that the nachos from Draper’s weren’t anything more than a pile of chips (there was no cheese, and nachos have cheese). We lived and laughed and learned together, and I wish I could put into words how amazing it all was. I’ll try again in the next post. If you don’t read any further, though, please know that I wouldn’t trade this semester for the world, and I am so very thankful to the friends I made in London/Europe and my parents, who made this whole thing possible. Thank you all for everything.
Friends and flatmates during a day trip to Brighton