Greetings from Great Britain! I know that it has been a while since I last updated the blog, but I’m sure many of you can understand how hectic times of traveling are. That being said, the traveling is over and now comes the transition.
Wow. I moved. I moved to another country where I know practically no one. I went half way around the world to go to university. No matter how many times I say it, it still sounds like a crazy dream that I’m hazily waltzing through, a figment of my imagination in a land far from the reality that surely awaits me when I wake up. Oh my goodness. Sometimes I kind of just stop and almost have to pinch myself. It isn’t that the move so far has not met any set expectations of mine (I actually tried to have as few expectations as possible), but somehow it still has not hit me. A couple of years ago if someone had told me that I was going to do this, that this would be my life, I would have thought that they were crazy. Regardless, here I am, on my own, in a brilliant, historic, and bustling foreign city. For the sake of efficiency, I am going to make a list of all of the important events from the past week below. Enjoy a glimpse into the chaos.
- The Flight Over – Getting ready to leave for a long trip overseas is always hectic. The fear of losing our passports and then the subsequent concern of keeping up with all of the other necessary travel documents can feel overwhelming, but on this particular venture we had a good deal more to worry about. Where was I going to pick up my residency permit? Did the county know where to send my absentee ballot? How could we most effectively distribute the weight between the suitcases? Would all my bags be searched at Heathrow since I was on a visa instead of vacationing? All of these were concerns on top of the usual pre-flight jitters and anxiety. While the
flights didn’t go off without a hitch (a lengthy delay and resulting airport shuttle cancellation), we landed in London at a decent time the next morning and I made my way through Border Control without much hassle. Worth mentioning: On our flight from Washington D.C. to London there were two young, clearly dedicated people dressed in full colonial garb. Full costumes. On an 8.5 hour flight. They even wore their top hats because, apparently, they believed in looking their absolute best even after a red-eye flight overseas. I falsely assumed that when they had to go through British Border Control they might bother to change, but I am quite sure that they made a certain government official’s day at Heathrow.
- Moving into My Flat – Out of the almost 800 students living in my building, only about 60 had permission to move in early. Luckily, I was one of those people. It made things about a million times easier. I arrived early, picked up my keys, got my mailbox number, and was immediately able to move everything upstairs. Pretty simple and straight
forward without serious crowds. Worth mentioning: I have a small, but nice walk-in shower… it just so happens that my toilet, sink, mirror, and towel rack also all happen to be in said small space. On the bright side, I have never ever had my own bathroom so I am beyond ecstatic.
- Stratford-upon-Avon – We took a little day off and caught a train to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the birthplace of the most famous playwright of all time: William Shakespeare. We took a train from London’s Marylebone Station and changed trains once before arriving in Stratford. The journey was simple and relatively short with the travel time clocking in at under an hour. The town itself was cute, but the birthplace of Shakespeare himself and the gardens at the house were the very essence of charming. With live performances of sonnets and scenes inside the
idyllic gardens (they did take requests) it was not hard to feel connected to the man who inspired millions of actors, writers, poets, and directors. I would highly recommend taking the day trip. However, because his grave (supposedly, there is some debate as to if the bones are legitimate) is buried inside the church, if you travel on a Sunday afternoon as we did, access may be limited due to preparations for church services.
Worth mentioning: If you are between the ages of 16 and 25, you can apply for a railcard that gets you 1/3 off all tickets for one year on the National Rail Service (basically all over the UK) and 1/3 off tickets for the Heathrow, Stansted, and Gatwick express trains. You have to bring a passport photo for the rail card, proof of age, and pay one flat fee of 30 pounds. Totally worth it if you plan on taking multiple day trips.
- Canterbury– On another day off we took a train to Canterbury in Kent, England. I knew of Canterbury from my sophomore year English class in which we studied Geoffrey Chaucer and his famous Canterbury Tales. To get to Canterbury you can take a train to Margate from London’s St. Pancras on the Southeastern Highspeed Railway. The walk from the train station was short and we quickly approached the ancient gates of the city. Before even entering the city we walked through a lovely garden with a crystal clear river running alongside it. There were boats you could hire in Canterbury that were
similar to those in Stratford, but in Canterbury they were fewer in number and everything seemed to go along at a slower and more peaceful pace. The town appeared to be predominately pedestrian and as we walked we passed plenty of ivy-covered walls down the cobblestone streets. What we saw of the striking cathedral was gorgeous and the building itself was immense against the peaceful town setting, but there was a university graduation being held that day, so our access to the interior of the church was limited.
Worth mentioning: Most British churches and cathedrals hold Evening song concerts that are free of charge and typically run from 30-45 minutes. As several verses are read and the choir boys sing, you will truly feel immersed in the culture and history.
- International Orientation – Culture shock is a serious thing. The majority of our international orientation was geared at preventing students like me from being overwhelmed with the cultural differences that we are all faced with now that we live in Great Britain. I was incredibly thankful to finally get a pretty detailed description of the way the British academic system works, particularly in the university setting. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect from my assignments and classes, and while I still fell pretty clueless, I do have some inkling of what to expect which is honestly a lot of progress for me.
Worth Mentioning: I had a very legitimate vocabulary lesson on Thursday at orientation. I had thought that some of the differences were honestly quite laughable and that there wasn’t much need to worry. Boy, did I get that sorted out. I had to fill out a sheet and goodness, I probably saved myself a lot of embarrassment just by paying attention to this one talk that was given. For example, “telling porkies” means telling lies and I would never have been able to figure that one out simply by guessing.
It was a chaotic week, but one filled with lots of excitement and adventure. At the very least, I got a real glimpse into what my life for the next 3 years is going to be like. Cheers!