Day 13. Loving London. Loving life.
After some of the hardest days of my entire life, I’m finally settling into my new home. But, of course, everything that could have gone wrong on my first day did, and the sadness, homesickness and subsequent crankiness amplified every frustrating moment. But, in typical me nature, I overreacted under jetlag and everything worked out the way it was supposed to in the end. Let’s break it down.
Day one. Arrive at homebase for room and roommate assignment. Get assigned a dorm I have never heard of, let alone put on my list, even after weeks of meticulous research of the campus. Take a cab to dorm. (A CAB.) Meet 24-year-old German roommate. Immediately conclude that because I am a 20-year-old American, this situation could never work. Secretly cry because I miss my family and want to go home already.
Day two. Cry less than day one, but cry some more nonetheless.
Day three. Realize my dorm, though the farthest walk to the cafeteria and class at 10-15 minutes, is by far the nicest (my German roommate paid 1,000 pounds extra for it). Conclude (for real this time) that my roommate is one of the most amazing human beings on this planet and I was not in the mental state to assess her the first time around. Finally let it sink in how incredibly lucky I am to be here and start to enjoy myself.
Not everyone is as family-oriented as I am, and not everyone has such a hard time being away from home. I’m much more independent after three years at college, and I knew I would be extremely homesick, but nothing — nothing anyone could have told me, nothing I could have read about — would have prepared me for the sadness I felt the first two days I was here. Even before I left, I wouldn’t have called myself excited. I wouldn’t let the fact that I would be living in London sink in, and I avoided the thought of leaving my sisters and two-year-old nephew back in the States without me. I knew I would have fun, and I knew it would end up being a really important experience for me, but I wanted to fast-forward the traveling and the first few days. And I was not wrong in wanting to do that. I don’t know if I wish I could forget those beginning days, because they taught me some really important lessons, but they were definitely really dark. I cried nearly the whole time, I was sick to my stomach and not eating, and I wanted to come home. I never, ever would have, but in those moments, I would have done anything to turn around and hop right back on a flight to SeaTac. I’m glad I didn’t, obviously, but that sadness is something I’ll never forget.
But, almost two weeks later, here I am, happy as a clam. I still miss my family, of course, but there’s so much to be thankful for here. For one, I live in Kensington, one of the “poshest” neighborhoods in London. My classes are bringing a creative part out of me that I never even knew existed, and I’ve made some amazing friends so far. Before I left, this was everything I wanted, and I’m experiencing all of it barely an eighth of the way into my program. I can already tell that by the time I go home, I’m going to want to come back. In fact, I’m a little worried this trip will be the highlight of my entire life and nothing will ever compare. While I’m glad that it was all worth it — the money, stepping out of my comfort zone, leaving my family for such an extended period of time — I can’t help but wonder what life will be like after I leave. But that’s a post for another time.
Right now, I want to talk about London. There’s so much to do and see, and while I spent the first couple weeks being the extreme tourist, I’ve barely scratched the surface — I almost feel like I can’t identify what my favorite parts are because I’ve had such limited access. If I had to choose, I’d be lying if I said the National Gallery wasn’t a game-changer. (I saw Van Gogh and Da Vinci in real life, for goodness sake!) I crossed Abbey Road, made a trip to Platform 9 ¾, and of course, introduced myself to a Mr. Big Ben (he was very lovely). My photojournalism assignments have also taken me to some interesting places, with some interesting food, and I could spend my remaining three and a half months exploring my own neighborhood alone. I have a running London Bucket List that gets added to every day — stay tuned for the top contenders.
But, I digress. Back to school: The grading system is a lot different here — instead of the professors having mostly free reign on how to teach and grade, Richmond makes most of the rules. For classes that meet once a week (which all of mine do), I can only miss three sessions before I fail the course. I have Thursdays off, but my Friday absences are quickly adding up (oops). As far as grading goes, each lecturer has another faculty member double-check their work to make sure it’s fair. In some cases — like if the professor isn’t all that fond of you, and therefore might let it affect your marks — this is a good thing. Most of these classes are based on theory, which requires a lot of reading and tests and not a lot of assignments. It’s not unusual to only have a midterm, final and (long) essay constitute your final grade. As a literature major at Western, you’d be surprised about how little I write essays. I’ve become a pro at the 500-word reading responses, which hasn’t really prepared me for the 3,500 word essay I have due in just a few weeks. That is one thing I absolutely will not miss when I leave.
Aside from the unique academic experience, though, not a whole lot feels different than back home. I get out a lot more, obviously, and I surprisingly have more friends here than I do in Bellingham. However, despite those things, I guess I wasn’t really considering the fact that I would call this place home for four months. That means I will still have days that I want to stay in and watch Netflix; I still have homework to do, and blog posts to write, and family to keep up with. I’m not completely detached from my old life like I kind of thought/hoped I would be. I’m doing a lot of the same things here that I would be doing back home.
But just when I start to think I’m wasting my time with daily, mundane tasks, I remember that I leave for Paris in four days. And Amsterdam in 11. And Dublin in just over a month.
Living in Europe is cool.