I’ve only been in London for a week now, but I’ve found that I’m already in love with this place. As someone from a smaller city of around 500,000 people, I was extremely nervous before I got here about living in a megacity. I have experience with solo abroad travel, but never to a place of this magnitude. The first day I arrived, I felt a new sense of identity. The airport was surprisingly easy to navigate (thanks to customs kiosks scanning passports), and I was able to meet up with others in my group almost immediately. As we went in a circle, saying our names and where we were from while waiting for our transport to our new home, I could feel myself getting more at ease. All of us were from different states but shared the commonality of being here to experience London and British culture to its fullest. In another reality, none of us would have ever met, so to be able to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with them has felt so special to me.
On my first day, I learned two things:
1. Driving in London is so stressful
2. It is of the utmost importance to walk fast on the pavement (or sidewalk, for us Americans)
I never imagined that the streets here would be so narrow and packed, but this is true. So packed that if you’re standing on the corner and a bus or car passes you, it’s very easy to reach out and touch the vehicle (or get your bag swept away). Day one was exhausting, unpacking and meeting everyone while also trying to figure out exactly where I am! Also, buying an Oyster card for the first time solidified that I was actually here and able to indulge in the wonder of efficient public transportation.
Day two consisted of class orientation for me, as well as a bus tour with those in my program. I met some amazing people at these gatherings, and since then, we’ve spent our first week traveling together and growing closer. I’m so grateful for these connections I’ve made here, and I feel so lucky to be growing spiritually and mentally alongside them.
Day three marked the first day of classes, and it was a bit of a doozy! Due to the shorter class terms, the class periods are longer, which was a bit disheartening. My spirits were lifted when I met my professor, a Greek woman that’s lived in London for almost two decades. She is unafraid to speak her mind about absolutely anything, and it’s a very entertaining experience. Also, this day one of the program directors brought her dog, Mabel, to the office (the sweetest cavalier king charles spaniel), and that brought me so much joy. After class, I decided to venture off on my own back home, and I eventually made it to my relief! I did get lost on the Tube for about 30 minutes, but I’m categorizing that as a learning experience. This was also the first night I ventured on a pub crawl with my housemates, and watching a football (soccer) game in a crowded English pub was both magical and very intense. Unfortunately for us, Arsenal lost. I have no concept of what this means, but I do know that the team is from the town where I’m staying, so I was upset in solidarity.
Days 4 and 5 were spent mostly with my classmates! After class, we would go to museums or just walk around, and it was so lovely to experience London at our own pace. The Victoria & Albert Museum was one of my absolute favorites, and I plan to go back for a special exhibition they’re doing soon. I had to go to bed early on day 4 since day 5 was a packed one! My classmates and I took a train, about 1.5 hours, to Brighton to explore the beach and pier. We saw many vintage shops, art galleries, and I took a million pictures like I had been every other day. That same night, we went to see Wicked at a theater in Victoria, and it was absolutely fantastic!
Day 6 was laidback for me; I have no classes on Fridays, so I was able to just hang out with my new friend from Hawaii, and we walked around Covent Garden! This is probably one of my favorite areas; it’s very commercial with a good mix of music, pubs, and museums! By this day, my leg fatigue was starting to catch up to me, as I’ve been averaging 8-9 miles of walking every day! Much different than I’m used to, but I adore living in this walkable city!
Finally, day 7, today! I and some of my housemates went to Portobello Street Market, a flea market with everything from jewelry, to furniture, to food! We were there for hours, looking around and haggling for items that we wanted. My haul consisted of two vintage rings, two pairs of earrings that I think my mom will love, as well as vintage magazines and a new pair of sunnies (sunglasses). To top off this wonderful day, we had some delicious Indian food from one of the stalls before heading back home.
I love this city! The public transportation and proximity of everything is such a big draw for me, and it has yet to disappoint. I’ve never experienced a place so diverse, but there are so many types of people I encounter every single day! The biggest challenge I faced this week was getting used to not engaging so much with strangers. In the American South, small talk and smiling at strangers is the norm, but that’s absolutely not the case here. The expectation is to just get where you need to go, without bothering anyone. As hard as it was at first, I’ve grown accustomed to it at this point. The constant hustle of the city makes every action I take feel important and significant, even if I’m popping into a local shop for a snack. Doing schoolwork is a bit challenging when there is so much to experience here, but I’ve found that if I visit a local coffee shop or park, I’m able to get the best of both worlds. There is no end of interesting characters here, and I’m starting to feel like I’m among these people now.