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#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.

Shocked by Culture Shock

Nearly every travel guide out there will tell you that there are several stages of culture shock. The more time you spend away from home, the harder culture shock will hit you, blah blah blah. For some reason, I thought I was immune to culture shock. I’ve traveled internationally, I’ve been exposed to British culture through different forms of media, and I’ve spent plenty of time away from home before. Culture shock can’t hit me! I’m super-traveler!

I was quite wrong.

Wikipedia describes culture shock as “a term used to describe the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different cultural or social environment, such as a different country or a different state”. That seems pretty accurate for Wikipedia, seeing as I’ve felt a lot of things since I arrived in London three weeks ago. I spent the first week or so in the “honeymoon stage”. I wanted to get out and do and see everything that this city has to offer. Homework? That can wait, let’s go to the Tower of London! That club is a fifteen minute walk from the tube? That’s totally worth it, they’ve got the best DJ in the city!

Naturally, I’m exhausted right now. Tiring yourself out in the first few days is probably the best way to enter stage two of culture shock, the “hostility stage”.

I feel like the term “hostility” is a bit strong, considering how I feel right now. I still love London, and I’m definitely not ready to go back to the states, but there are some things that frustrate me about being here. Things are expensive, in between school and travel plans I never feel like I have enough time for everything I want to do, and I still can’t find anywhere to get my eyebrows waxed (seriously, it’s getting out of hand).  I guess the thing that I’m most frustrated with is being so far away from the people I love. I want to share my experiences with them. However, I’ve been blessed with a great group of people to live and study with here in London, which makes this whole “hostility period” much easier. I’m not hostile, just a bit sad, particularly because the Reading Room of the Victoria & Albert Museum (where I happen to be writing this post) keeps playing songs that remind me of the states.

Of course, I’m still having an amazing time here. I’ll leave you with some highlights of the last few weeks.

I took a tour of Parliament with my classmates on Monday morning. Honestly, I didn’t think that “common folk” were allowed in Parliament. My experiences with American government buildings has been limited, and mostly experienced from the outside. Apparently anyone can come in and have a chat with their local Member of Parliament or attend a debate. The building alone is a work of art, and yet someone let me on the floor of the House of Commons. I call that government transparency at its finest. Congress, take notes.

I did the ultimate tourist thing and took a ride on the London Eye last week. My friends and I went at night when the city was all lit up and ready to party (well, as hard as you can party on a Wednesday night). The views were gorgeous enough to distract me from my fear of heights, which probably means that I’m not afraid of heights anymore. Here are a few of my favorite shots of the night.

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Last Saturday I saw Zach Braff’s new play All New People at the Duke of York’s Theatre. I went on my own, which is a theatre first for me. As much as I enjoy discussing a play after I’ve seen it with others, it was nice to just take it in and digest the work on my own. The play was a funny, yet poignant portrayal of life as a young person in such an isolating age. As this was Braff’s first play, there were some things that he still needs to work on and some writing choices that I didn’t agree with, but overall I enjoyed the show and would recommend it to theatre fans in London in the next two weeks, particularly if you are a fan of Braff’s work. I also got to meet Braff at the stage door after the show! He was really great with his fans, making sure to sign everyone’s program/Scrubs DVDs/Marks & Spencer’s voucher. Image

I leave for a weekend in Amsterdam bright and early tomorrow morning. It’s high time for a change of scenery.