I knew I was going to love London, but the one thing I didn’t expect from studying abroad was how nice my neighborhood was going to be, and how little I would want to leave it every day. Don’t get me wrong: Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus and all the other tourist spots are amazing, and I love just exploring random parts of the city. But when you live in an area so wonderful that locals ask if you’re a millionaire for being able to afford it, you can understand the appeal (p.s. I’m not a millionaire — I think I just got lucky with dorm assignments).
I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to walking out my front door to a row of Mercedes and BMWs, but I definitely could get used to the cherry blossom-littered streets in the springtime, and the private park I like to spy on from my bedroom window. I love Bellingham, but there’s nothing quite like leaving your window cracked at night and actually being able to fall asleep to the soft sounds of the city. There are bakeries around every corner, and every little street you turn on has something new to oggle at — I spent my whole life dreaming about London, but even the best camera angles and most appealing filters wouldn’t have prepared me for what it looks like with my own eyes.
Even my everyday routine during the week feels glamorous compared to my life in the States. I have the same 10-minute walk to school every morning, but there’s somehow always something new to point out. I have one three-hour class a day (except for Thursdays), and while the schooling system is a lot different here, and I often find myself stressed out by all the work, I feel confident that I’m leaving with more knowledge and new skills. I have breakfast and dinner on campus every weekday, which is never my ideal meal when I’m surrounded by the diversity of an international city, but one thing I’ve had to accept is that I live here. No one (not even a make-believe millionaire living in Kensington) can afford to eat out for every meal; learning to budget in London is a devastating experience, but I’m leaving here with a better grasp on money (which I’ll hopefully retain when I get home). It’s worth it, nevertheless.
Besides the food, one of the things I was most disappointed by was how difficult it is to mingle with locals. I’ve met a lot of great people in my program — and I’m stoked that I now have reasons to visit just about every state in the US — but my (albeit outlandish) dreams of befriending British bloggers and happening upon potential future pen pals has been anything but successful. Of course, my accent has striken up a lot of random conversation and unwanted political commentary, but nothing to pursue beyond a pint at the local pub.
Yet, in terms of everything else I wanted to achieve from this experience, I’m overjoyed. I have a month left, but I’m already dreading having to leave this new city I’ve started to call home, and the friends who are now family. I’ll even miss the public transportation. All I wanted before I left was to have the time of my life, and I absolutely have.
I was hesitant about studying abroad at first. I’ve never been the most social or independent person, but that’s exactly why I needed to leave home — to learn how to become those things. Being in an unfamiliar place has taught me some surprising lessons. I put myself out there more, and I’m no longer afraid of getting lost or ending up in the wrong place — those times actually turn out to be the most fun. I have more friends here than I ever have before, and they’re all people I never would have pictured myself getting along with.
London culture isn’t all that different from America’s, but simply being here has changed me: I want to be more involved in things, use my voice, and interact with people I don’t know. I think I’ll always be a little bit shy, and I’m sure returning to what’s familiar will revert me back to that somewhat, but I really hope it doesn’t. If it does, at least I’ll always have the memories of being the person I’ve wanted to be for a long time, and I hope they will give me the motivation to chase what I found here when I graduate college.
To anyone who is considering studying abroad, I say, without hesitation, to go for it. Not everyone leaves their home to search for the things I was searching for, but I think everyone can learn something new about themselves.