I’ve been home for several weeks now, and I still cannot comprehend the wonderful adventures I was able to have and memories I was able to make while I was abroad. In just four months, I visited eleven countries, traveled through more cities than I care to count, and met so many wonderful people that I know I’ll never forget. I became a regular at a local pub, and I stood in silence on the Remembrance Day Parade at the eleventh hour with my fellow Brits. Tea – even with milk – became a regular staple in my diet, as did my regular chicken and chips at a hole in the wall fast food place near New Cross Gate Station.
I had my regular coffeeshop and my regular order, I could rattle off the tube lines and stations to get nearly everywhere, and I became old hat at inter-country travel. Over my whole trip, I used just about every form of transportation: ferry, bus, tram, train, subway, plane, boat, and car. But my most frequent way to get around? Walking. In every city I visited, I learned its streets and sights by walking miles upon miles a day. My longest day of walking was my last night in Paris with my fiancé: we walked 15.1 miles and climbed 50 flights of stairs (because we’re cheap and made to climb the Eiffel Tower instead of taking the elevator).
During my last week in London, I tried to take each day to either do something new or do something very British. The idea for this came from my mom, who’s first suggestion was to “eat one of those triangle sandwiches.” I laughed aloud when she said this and I said, “Mom, I eat one of those almost every day for lunch.” I did anyway on Monday and sent her a photo. Also on my last Monday I went to Westminster and walked by all the typical London sights – snapping my last photos of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, walking by Buckingham Palace and ducking to avoid pigeons flying way too close to me, and circling Piccadilly Circus to find souvenirs to bring home. I spent a little more time in Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, where I found a London ornament to bring home for me mum. And of course, because it was Monday that meant stand-up at Angel Comedy Club!
On Tuesday, my British thing was to get an afternoon cuppa and take a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I went with one of my very best friends, Temperance Dewar, another English major, who was geeking out just as much as I was. Before I left for abroad, when I would tell people I was going to London, I would usually follow it up with: “Because where else in the world can you go to a class on Shakespeare in the morning, Stratford-upon-Avon in the afternoon, and catch a play at the Globe at night?” Well, I never made it to the Bard’s hometown, and I missed the Globe’s season, but I did take a Shakespeare course and was able to tour the theatre! Tea was a necessity, however, after so much walking.
On Wednesday, I spent my afternoon walking through Deptford to Greenwich Park where I sat for at least half an hour just watching the city skyline from the Southern Park. Looking more like a local than when I first went to Greenwich, I skipped the museums and Prime Meridian and headed straight to the hill, from which you can see all of Canary Wharf, Southwark, and bits of Westminster (you have to really squint to see the Eye).
And Thursday, my friends had stayed over the night before so we went to English breakfast together at Birdie Num Nums in New Cross. And for the rest of the day, I wondered how I was every going to leave London. We spent the afternoon in Southwark at some of our favorite places. Temperance and Aasta had never seen the inside of the Tower, so I sat outside and journaled while watching tourists and the Tower Bridge while they were inside. I thought a lot about all the memories I’d been able to collect and tried to look forward to things that would be coming up back home. We also went by Southwark Cathedral one more time and walked through Borough Market before heading back home.
My last day, Friday, was spent in two halves. In the first, I calmly and easily got all my stuff together, dropped off donations, and went to have a long cup of coffee at my regular coffeehouse with my aforementioned best friends. Then, they got me down to the station while we waited for the train to Horsham – which would take me to Gatwick Airport. I let the first one go by because I wanted to spend time with my friends, and I would have been very, very early. But…then they canceled the rest of the trains to Gatwick for the rest of the day. This second half of the day was filled with panic of missing the flight, missing the many connecting trains I needed to board to get to Gatwick, and somehow being overweight at baggage claim. I did not miss my flight on the exceptional Norwegian Air (seriously, they are not giving me money to promote them, they’re just awesome), but my checked suitcase was slightly overweight, resulting in a penalty charge. BUT – I made my flight.
Saying things like “I’m so grateful for this experience” or “these were the best few months of my life” or “I’m forever changed because of these memories” feel to cliche and understated to be accurate for my study abroad experience. But I am changed: I left loving routine and plans to now being slightly less neurotic and more adventurous. I left a boyfriend back home and now have a fiancé. I left unsure, less confident, and insecure, and the friends I made and the experiences I’ve had have made me stronger, more compassionate, and positive. A few years ago, I said I didn’t want to travel much, and now I’m checking airplane prices to see when I could potentially go back, or go anywhere.
Thank you so much to my parents and grandparents for helping me get to England and beyond. Thank you to Henry for sharing Paris and London with me and actually making me excited to come home. Thank you to Temperance and Aasta for being the friends I didn’t expect to make abroad but who have meant the world to me. Thanks to the SNC study abroad program for putting Goldsmiths on the list of possible choices. And to everyone who kept up with my blogs, pictures, and random messages, thank you. I love you all so much.