Even after being here for seven full days, it still has not fully hit me that I am in a completely different country, although there are many differences between the United States and the United Kingdom. You could say it is probably because we are united by a common language. (*badum tiss* for my pun)
As I reflect on my arrival and the time I am taking to readjust my body and mind to London, I can’t help but feel grateful. Without the scholarships that I received, I would not have been able to come here and study. Almost a year ago, I contemplated the feasibility of a semester abroad and despite my great financial need, I did not abandon my goal because of its intensity or difficulty, rather I pursued it with more dedication once I realized how challenging it would be to achieve my goal.
My flights to London went by with speed. I had spent the past three weeks binging travel videos that detailed many tips and hacks to survive the long haul, overnight flights and I do not regret how I spent my mini summer vacation in between my two semesters. I used all the tips and although I was not able to get any sleep, I was as comfortable as I could be on a long plane ride. I have never taken a flight over 4 hours long, so I did not know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to sit next to my buddy from my study abroad program whom I agreed to fly to London with. I was surprised by the quality and quantity of in-flight entertainment and food with Delta Airlines. I had no expectations prior to my experience which made it more enjoyable for me.
However, expectations can be dangerous. Before I left for London (and my mother left for Antigua, her home country to visit my grandmother), I borrowed one of her many unlocked phones so that I could put a sim card in it while I am in Europe. Within hours of arriving in London, I sought to get my phone situated but much to my dismay, the unlocked phone I borrowed was not considered unlocked for Europe. Even a week later, I still do not completely understand what went wrong. While visibly disappointed and my feathers ruffled, I felt overcome by my emotions and the adrenaline of being in a new country. So, I trudged back to my flat trying to find the bright side of this minor inconvenience. I rationed that if I (hopefully) study abroad in The Netherlands next spring, I would want to have a European phone just in case the unlocked American phone suffered some complications. My expectations cause me disappointment which could have dampened the joy I initially felt once we safely land at the airport. I could have chosen to focus my attention and energy on my lack of a working phone, or I could have consciously decided to understand the purpose of that moment in the grander scheme of my semester and my life.
Fast forwarding a few days, I expected to have to pay 130 pounds for a phone and 90 pounds for a 90-day unlimited sim card. Although I did not want to pay an additional 130 pounds for another phone, I did not want to remain without a phone for much longer due to my lack of ability to navigate the tube when I did not have a peer with a European sim card. I knew what had to be done and walked into Carphone Warehouse, expecting the phone I wanted to be in stock. Turn out, it was not in stock and the second-best option was discontinued. At this point, I had to laugh. Centuries ago we could live without our phones and not be distraught but now we believe that we need our phones to survive. In my new contingency plan, I did not account for this new possibility, so I did what I do best: ask questions. The clerk was able to find my new smartphone for 90 pounds, 50 pounds cheaper than the phone I was initially looking for. On top of that, I received a free memory card and 10 pounds discount because the clerk was unable to get me the phone I originally wanted and a phone case for the phone I bought! If I had been impatient and rushed to get another phone the day I arrived in London, I would have spent more money than I needed to! My expectation caused me disappointment, but my resiliency led me to an even better deal than my expectation.
Before arriving in London, I planned to travel to the Czech Republic, France, The Netherlands, Iceland, Greece, Italy, and Germany. It is easy to plan when you think you have the details all mapped out. But the truth was, despite all my research, I did not comprehend the fact that I did not have much time (or the finances) to travel outside of the United Kingdom every weekend. I thought that the six weekends I had before I started my internship in July could be spent elsewhere but our weekends were jam-packed with tours, orientations, and preparations. Much to our surprised, during orientation we were told to not book any travel plans for an entire week because we needed to stay in London for the interviews for our internships. Sometimes interviews can be rescheduled due to the business meeting with their clients at a short notice. It is almost guaranteed that this could happen to many of us on the program so it is best to start in London to not miss the rescheduled interview.
Being full of excitement and adrenaline, my peers and I haphazardly attempted to plan out our weekend trips but the costs were too high due to the short notice, and I did not know my peers well enough to want to spend an entire weekend with them in a foreign country whose first language I did not know. As of current, I still have not confirmed any travel plans. While I am trying to learn to be more spontaneous this summer, I am also learning to ponder more profoundly about the impacts of my decisions and how they will affect my future. I was adamant about going to Iceland so I could visit the Blue Lagoon, but was it feasible?
After talking for many hours and days with my very wise and insightful Godmother, I came to realize that it is safer for me to travel to countries that were within a 2 hours distance to the UK in case flights get canceled or other unforeseen circumstances. Thankfully my top two countries are a hop skip jump across the pond from England (I’m referring to France and The Netherlands). So now my task is trying to convince at least 2 more of my peers to spend their week-long summer with me in these two countries. Unlike most others on this program, I want to travel around many cities in The Netherlands, not just Amsterdam. If I am going to study there for six months, I need to know what I am getting myself into. So now I must negotiate with some of my peers and support my decision with travel deals and packages that could convince them. As an introvert, negotiations are something I flee from. I do not like inconveniencing others or arguing (which is a common perception of negotiations). If I was able to, I would spend my summer break alone and go to all the places I want to, but it would be unwise and unsafe if I did that. So, I must pursue the art of negotiation so that my travel partners and I both gain a win-win for our summer.
To conclude, as we live our lives, we are naturally inclined to form opinions and expectations about our desires, our wants, and our surroundings. Without realizing it, we may have expectations that we did not even notice we had! I did not consciously form an expectation about my phone situation, I just assumed everything would be fine and work out. But that is an expectation. Life can be unpredictable and unforeseen circumstances happen frequently. As an avid planner, I love to have my course of action mapped out beforehand but often, situations arise that are unplanned for. How do you respond to those situations? Do you panic and avoid addressing the issue? Or do you choose to take a step back and collect all the details and rework your original plan (or may craft a few new ones)? Before I made the decision to embark on my study abroad semester, I would have panicked and tried to avoid the situation until it worked itself. But after having to handle many difficult situations (like the UK visa system being down for almost three weeks a month before I had to leave for London), I am confident enough to take a step back and analyze the situation from more perspectives than just my own, limited one. I hope to continue doing so this semester.
What I once called a snag or a minor setback, I will now call a change in my course of action. I hope you will also change your perspective on those inconveniences and let us both make memories that we can be proud of.