For the past three years throughout my college career, studying abroad has seemed like some abstract concept. I knew since I was a freshman that I wanted to spend a semester traveling and exploring Europe, but it still all seemed too surreal. After what has possibly been one of the most tiresome, overwhelming and exciting weeks of my life, I can finally sit back and reflect on everything that I have experienced and decompress.
We arrived in London at 7:00 AM and took a bus into the city. After watching a movie and eating dinner on our flight, I only had a chance to take a short hour-long nap before landing. Jetlagged but excited, my friends and I began to explore our new home.
Our first lesson came all too quickly. Pedestrians do not have the right of way in London. Cars and buses zoom down the street, and will not hesitate to run over a daring jaywalker. Crosswalks are not optional in the United Kingdom!
Following an orientation at our university, we were left to do as we pleased the rest of the afternoon. We got a head start in finding a flat – London’s version of an apartment. In a moment of pure luck, my friends and I happened to be looking at the same atrocious flat as another group of Syracuse students. After noticing our obvious displeasure at the stained carpets and cigarette smell of the flat we were viewing, our realtor suggested we merge the two groups together and visit a flat he was remodeling. We couldn’t have asked for a better situation, and found a well-located and absolutely beautiful nine person apartment near the Marble Arch area.
After quickly signing our lease the following day, we began to truly explore London. We spent the day popping in and out of stores on London’s famous Oxford Street, and were amazed at how effortlessly fashionable the locals were. The highlight of our day was discovering Primark, an incredible department store where we found nearly everything that comes to mind at unbelievably low prices. After a long day of shopping and walking, we went a pub. We excitedly toasted our arrival into this new city, but were confused and a bit disappointed when we found that most pubs in London close before midnight.
We were lucky enough to receive incredible guides from friends and family, and per their recommendations, we spent the next day exploring Covent Garden. The area was very similar to what Chelsea Market would be in New York City, and we spent the afternoon exploring through the dozens of stores throughout each alley. We couldn’t resist ourselves and picked up a light snack after seeing Lauderée, a luxurious French bakery that imports fresh macaroons to their stores every morning.
My “oh my God I really am here” moment didn’t happen until later that afternoon, when we visited Trafalgar Square. The area is a massive hub in central London, where many events happen throughout the entire year. It's comprised of a giant plaza with an obelisk in the middle with a statue of Horatio Nelson, a famous British admiral who fought in the battle of Trafalgar. Four equally tremendous statues of lions made from melted cannons surround the massive tribute. The area was filled with lively street performers and a beautiful view of the London skyline, with the famous Big Ben peeking behind the corner of classical nineteenth century buildings. Surrounding the square, dozens of red double decker buses whizzed by, finishing what as the perfect depiction of London.
Later that night, we went to a three-story bar called O’Neill’s and felt nostalgia for the basement of CVS we’re used to frequenting every Tuesday and Thursday back at Syracuse. The place felt like a college bar, and we ran into many students from our program there. We also mingled with locals and other tourists, and as we climbed from floor to floor, O’Neill’s turned from a low-key pub, to a bar, to a full-on nightclub.
The following morning we moved into our dream-like apartment, and spent the day unpacking and buying all of our living necessities. We quickly came down from cloud nine when we found out that we had no hot water in our bathroom, and had to resort to risking frostbite every time we took a shower. Although there are a few minor details we still have to work out with our landlord, we are happy with our new home, and I have enjoyed getting to know my roommates on a more personal level.
That night we ventured away from the bars and pubs and hit the nightclub scene in London. We were pleasantly surprised to hear all of our favorite American songs playing at Café de Paris. Although the night began with a bit of an older crowd, we found ourselves surrounded by local 20-somethings by the end of the night.
Yesterday, we took advantage of the beautiful weather the following day and walked around Hyde Park. The area reminded me of a smaller Central Park, with a large body of water running through the middle of it and with surrounding views of different buildings. I caught up with an old neighbor from Cincinnati that night and enjoyed hearing more advice about Europe from someone who’s been in my position before.
A friend of our roommates’ invited us to one of the largest nightclubs in the city that night, and although my friends and I weren’t too thrilled after paying a £20 cover (a little less than $40 USD), we entered a cool underground lounge with strobe lights and fog. The club, called Project London, was a mix between posh British locals and study abroad students eager to experience the European nightlife.
This brings us to today, where we met with our program to go through a tour of London. We rode buses all around the city, stopping at important points and hearing about the city’s history. We went to Buckingham palace, where we watched the stone-faced guards stand loyally by the royal gates. We also explored the Tower Bridge, not to be confused with the iconic London Bridge. The equally famous structure is remembered in my mind as the place where the Olympic rings hung just a few years ago.
Our tour also took us to Greenwich, England. If you’re like me and remember your geography, this is the place where the Prime Meridian runs through, marking the beginning of where we measure time. We excitedly took pictures as we straddled both hemispheres, and spent the day looking through the various museums and shops the town had to offer. We also visited Greenwich market, and spent a couple of hours wondering from store to store.
Following our tour, we returned home and rested for what seemed the first time since we came home. I was finally able to speak with my family, and we all got ready for our first day of classes tomorrow. I can’t believe that tomorrow will mark a week since I left for this incredible city. I’m excited for my classes this semester, and I’m eager to continue to learn about what London and the rest of Europe have to offer.