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parliament

#TBT: Memories of London | BEDA Day 7

Around this time four years ago, I was gallivanting around London as one of the many study abroad students who arrive in the country each year. Studying abroad was always part of my undergrad plan, but I wasn’t sure where (or when) I would go. In the end I went with what now seems like the safest option in retrospect. I didn’t have to learn a new language, I was familiar with the culture, and the time difference wasn’t as bad as somewhere like Australia. The safe option turned out to be the best choice, though.

My 11 weeks in London were some of the best of my life. I know how typical that sounds: “I studied abroad and it changed my life! OMG I’m so CuLtUrEd!!!” Seriously, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. There were challenges along the way – I did get homesick and the classes were difficult. I came home feeling much more independent, though, and ultimately felt really comfortable in the city. Plus, I had the best group of flatmates around.

In honor of #tbt, here are a some of my favorite memories of my time abroad, in the form of crappy photos pulled off of Facebook.

stonehenge london study abroad

My parents did a bit of traveling of their own while I was abroad. They met up with me in London for Mother’s Day weekend before heading off on a two week tour of Ireland. While they were in town, we decided to take a day trip to Bath and Stonehenge, because you can’t go to Southern England without visiting Bath and Stonehenge. My folks don’t do anything half-assed, so we booked a tour that allowed us to get up close and personal with the stones after the park had closed to the public. This is definitely the way to go if you can swing it. Of course you can’t actually touch the stones, getting so close to something so ancient is really freaking cool. Also there are lots of sheep.
elephant house edinburgh london study abroadI so wish you could actually see out the window in this photo. One weekend in April, a couple of us took an overnight Megabus (not recommended) to Edinburgh to see what Scotland had to offer. We arrived around 7am, before most shops and cafes in Old Town opened. After some frustrated wandering, we found The Elephant House, empty and just opening for the day. I believe Jo Rowling herself was shining her light on me at that moment because a) I was starving and exhausted and b) as the “birthplace of Harry Potter,” The Elephant House is almost always packed. We got an amazing seat with a view of Edinburgh Castle and stuffed our faces with eggs. As you can tell from the above photo, I was very content.

franz ferdinand limerick london study abroad

Sometimes your favorite band announces that their first set of shows in a few years will take place in Ireland. While you’re studying in London. And your friend (also a huge fan) is living in Glasgow. You have to go, right? Right. That’s exactly what I did. I spent a total of 48 hours in Ireland, 4 of which were spent on buses between Dublin and Limerick, the site of the concert. It was so worth it, though. Dolan’s Warehouse is a much smaller venue than the ones Franz Ferdinand typically plays in the states, and we ended up standing just a few rows from the front. The new songs, which eventually made up their 2013 album “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action,” sounded great. I saw them again when they headlined the Field Day festival in London a few weeks later, which means I’ve officially seen them play in three different countries. Does that make me a groupie? Who knows.

climbing lion trafalgar square london study abroad

Everyone has to climb a lion in Trafalgar Square when they come to London. It’s a rite of passage, apparently. On my last night in London, a friend of mine invited me to help him shoot something for his webseries in the wee hours of the morning. We ended up staying up all night and found ourselves in Frafalgar Square at 4am. It was far from deserted, but as I was flying home in about 8 hours, I figured now was my chance to ride one of these majestic iron creatures. With a little help from my friends, I conquered the beast. Later, we watched the sun rise along the Thames, perfectly lighting up Parliament. Somehow I still made my flight.
I’m ready to go back to London right about now. If anyone has a job for me over there, or a couple thousand dollars lying around, hit me up.

The Post 9/11 American Girl Doll

Whenever the time comes for American Girl to make a new historical doll set at the turn of the 21st century, they should totally base that doll off of my 9 to 10 year-old-self.

I’m not trying to say that I was the perfect representation of the average American girl at the time. But my life did follow the natural progression of an American Girl book series. Each doll had their own series of books, each book featuring the same theme as those of the other dolls to show how they were each similar and different. I could certainly find a way to fit moments of my young life into the themes of these books.

Meet Charlotte – Meet me! I’m fun! And 9 years old!

Charlotte Learns A Lesson – Math is designed specifically to make me cry.

Charlotte’s Surprise – We’re moving to Pennsylvania! Yay?

Charlotte Saves the Day! – A book of blank pages.

Of all of the books in my non-existent American Girl line, I think the most important would be Changes for Charlotte. My life as a 10-year-old almost seems too much like a cookie-cutter American Girl Changes For… book. In these books, some major event (bringing a family of former slaves back together, trapping season) in the featured girl’s life coincides with a major event in American history (the end of the Civil War, Manifest Destiny, etc.). For me, these two events were my move to Pennsylvania and 9/11.

The first few days at my new elementary school were all right. My teacher was nice, I met a few nerdy girls who unfortunately were not in my class, and I was starting to get the hang of things around there. I was particularly looking forward to going back to my old neighborhood in New Jersey to celebrate my 10th birthday with my friends. I mean, I was having a freaking gymnastics party. How cool is that?

I don’t remember much of my school day on 9/11. It was awkward and unremarkable like the rest of those early days. Everything seemed all right until I noticed that my dad was home early from work. And my parents had made chocolate pudding. You know something’s up when the Dows break out the pudding.

Mom and Dad sat me down at the kitchen table and we dug into our pudding. They explained what had happened earlier in the day as calmly as they could, given the situation. They’d had a few hours to process it by then and I applaud the way they handled breaking the news to me. Had I found out on the news or at school, I would’ve panicked. At that point a good portion of my family was working or living in Manhattan. My aunt was actually one of the survivors of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. The fact that my parents weren’t panicking told me that everyone in the family was safe and that I could rest relatively easy.

I remember feeling a lot of emotions when I heard the news. I was mostly annoyed. How dare such a tragedy occur two days before my birthday? Once that wore off (it didn’t), I was worried. The first words I said to my parents after they broke the news to me were “I hope this doesn’t start a war”. In other news, yes, I am psychic.

More emotions followed in the next few days: relief that my family was OK, grief for people I didn’t know and a place I’d never been, confusion, the works. Mostly I just continued on with my exciting 10-year-old life, not thinking much about it because I didn’t want to.

And yet, every year on this day, I feel so attached to the event. Not because I knew anyone who died in the attack. Not because I was there. But because that day represents a very challenging, confusing, and upsetting time in my life.

I moved to Pennsylvania from a small suburb in New Jersey that just happened to be about 45 minutes outside of New York City. My parents and I went to the city often to see Broadway shows, visit family, and occasionally be big fat tourists. That was my city, is still my city. Leaving was difficult enough. Seeing the centerpiece of the skyline go up in smoke was almost too much to bear. It didn’t seem real at all. Sometimes it still doesn’t.

But back to the Changes. What followed that day were some difficult years of trying to find my place in a new school and town. My family and I were very much outsiders to the community. My parents didn’t meet and marry at Penn State, we weren’t the third generation of country club members in our family, and my mom worked. It was difficult to break into the crowd to say the least. Eventually we did. We carved out a place for ourselves in this community. My parents worked hard to hide their Long Island accents and people started calling my mom Catherine instead of Cathy. Our post 9/11 world was drastically different from our pre 9/11 world. And while I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for anything, I just wish that it hadn’t come at such a hard time for the country. The stress of my own little world was enough to handle.

American Girl would never publish that book. Way too depressing.

Thus ends everything I’ve wanted to say about 9/11 for the past 10 years but haven’t had the balls or the emotional depth to until now. Yes. That sentence makes sense.