Category Archives: studying abroad

A Sweet Farewell

I’ve spent the last few days walking the same streets I groggily dragged through on my first day in London. Now, in addition to the grime and dirt and charming age of Notting Hill and its surroundings, imprinted in its intangible geography are my memories, particularly of those first few days.

I remember the aching, worrying feeling that caused a week-long loss of appetite upon my arrival, and the compounding fear that I’d caught a new British-made food-borne illness. After all, I do not lose my appetite. My self-control, maybe, my mind, definitely, but never my appetite.

I remember my dad emailing me to say that he and my mom had left me a confidence-boosting note in my suitcase, and the resulting desperate search through every crevice of my luggage with all the hysterical fervor of a girl who just needed some hope.

I remember the tears cooling painfully down my cheeks in the winter air as I ventured out of my lonely, tobacco-scented hotel room to secure a cellphone and some reassurance that I’d soon have contacts to add to it.

I remember watching snow flurries illuminated by street lamps through my window as I listened to the meteorologist on television apologize for his faulty predictions and analysts discuss how weather predictions could be made more accurately, a la America. (At this, I remember laughing.)

I most vividly remember moving into my Notting Hill house a few days later, carefully arranging my bookshelf with family photographs and scoping out the kitchen for the ultimate implements of happiness and acclimation: mixing bowls and baking dishes.

And tonight, in honor of those latter kitchen discoveries, I baked my last London dessert–a peach cobbler for my still-southern-at-heart landlady.

It’s her I will remember fondly as the person who transformed this experience from bittersweet to just-peachy.

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The Five Stages

I’m one week away from France.

I’m also terrifyingly close to the end of my time here. The thought is difficult to process, much less write about.

Last semester, a friend told me that studying abroad involved five stages, or one per month. Month one involves sheer terror fading into homesickness and regret. Month two involves finally getting one’s feet wet. Month three involves Making the Most of It. Month four involves fully taking charge and owning the experience.

Month five involves wondering why you ever wasted time feeling the way you did in month one.

I am a textbook example of the five stages of study abroad. See earlier posts for evidence.

I am now working on crossing off London tourism goals from my bucket list. Tomorrow night: seeing a play at The Globe Theatre. I get to be a real groundling, although I doubt I’ll be allowed to bring in rotting vegetables to throw if the performance of Macbeth is not up to my standards.

Getting arrested and thrown into jail is not on my bucket list.

Done.

I just spent the entire day comparing Mexican American and Native American foodways to explain how mainstream society’s adoption of each (or lack thereof) reflects larger cultural and racial biases. And I talked about Chipotle, so now I’m craving a calorie-laden misrepresentation of actual Mexican food.

Oh, to be a young academic.

That paper’s completion marks the end my two-paper-writing blitz. I am now free to move about the continent.

In Two Months’ Time

It’s official. Exactly two months until I come home. Mark your calendars.

I don’t like to think about that day, so I won’t. Because it means leaving a world that I am only now beginning to appreciate and understand. And when I return to a world that I once understood (and still greatly appreciate), it will have changed, and my place in it will have changed, too. Maybe, hopefully, we’ve changed at the same rate and we still make sense together. Co-evolution.

It’s like in school, where every year we switched rooms and the chairs got a little bigger and the desks a little higher to accommodate us. My greatest fear is that my legs will no longer fit properly under the desk.

Or, worse still, that I can no longer reach the pencil sharpener.

In London Love, For Real

London, like Walt Whitman, contains multitudes.

I went to Greenwich Market on the overground today, passing by Canary Wharf along the way (definitely my next planned destination). I got to thinking about Notting Hill, and the Strand, and Soho, and Brick Lane, and Kensington, and realizing that every region is strikingly distinctive, each charming for an entirely different set of reasons. And that’s why people love London.

And that’s why, today, I finally fell in love with London. For its aesthetics, for its cultural diversity, for its multitudes.

Not an Anglophile or any-other-phile by nature, I came here for the opportunities, the proximity to other countries and, admittedly, the English language–not the culture.

I’ve spent the last three months falling all too easily into a schedule, soon shedding my homesickness and honeymoon feelings for intern responsibilities and schoolwork. I lost myself in thoughts in the Tube, fell into a commuter coma, succumbed to exhaustion early most evenings.

A fleeting view of London’s industrial Venice and the kiss of a chicken samosa released me from my catatonic state. I have so much more to see.

I’m ready to be a residential tourist again.

Addendum:

I bought a set of these pillows (with red font) at the market. The significance just occurred to me.

The End of an Education

Today was my last day of classes at uni. Can’t pretend I’m devastated, which is a particularly difficult emotion to convey over the Internet anyway.

I will miss my American West course and my friendly lunch hours, but I’m looking forward to getting hyper-involved at my internship. We all went out together last night and bonded the proper British way, involving an authentic pub followed by an Asian restaurant–the latter flaunting the success of British Imperialism. We’re all truly grateful for the contribution to British cuisine.

But first, before full-time internship mode begins, a four-day weekend. (Thank God for state churches. Bah-da-BUM.)

And at some point before late April, I must write two 4000 word essays.

Stairway to Nowhere

I know I came here to study, first and foremost. But I would just like to say that despite my best efforts, I cannot fall in love with my London university like I have with UNC. My friends are great, the city is amazing, my internship is rewarding. My school is getting on my nerves.

I’ll offer another list as a means of explanation:

  • There are no transitions between classes. None. So that means I get out of my two-hour 9 a.m. class at 11 a.m. and am expected to be in my 11 a.m. class at 11 a.m. Since those classes are conveniently located on opposite sides of campus and I cannot apparate, I am perpetually late.
  • Further, this school is an absolute maze. The campus consists of a series of old hotels and a tube station that were later connected to demonstrate engineering at its most inefficient. I cannot tell you how many times a day I climb up one flight of stairs, walk down a hallway, then climb back down another flight of stairs. Good for cardio, bad for my patience.
  • The only computer labs are often reserved for classes and are thus impossible to access. Which means I cannot print for a significant part of the day, even if I have an assignment due. Also, making copies involves a tedious process requiring the purchase of a £3 copy pass that isn’t actually sold on campus.
  • Each class is only once a week, for one hour (each course involves one seminar and one lecture). While that time constraint might sound like a blessing, it’s frustrating to focus on the material so briefly. And there’s no chance for a sense of class camaraderie to develop.
  • More on the camaraderie issue–my campus lacks it. I’m not sure if the nature of city universities causes them to be more disconnected, but I wish there was an equivalent to the student union or The Pit. The only sense of community that exists is within societies. So glad I joined Erasmus!
  • Although my professors are great people, overall I feel like I’m just a number (or several numbers, since the school felt it necessary to assign us about four different numbers, each serving a different log-in purpose). I find it difficult to devote any energy to a school that generally doesn’t return the favor.

This picture of a stairway to nowhere in one building on my campus best portrays my current feelings on the university.