The one thing that people didn’t tell us about before we left abroad was the culture shock we were going to face after we come back from abroad. Now, I know it’s early to talk about returning to the United States, but after being here for two weeks, I know it’s going to be hard to adapt back to our lives in the States.
As I sit here in my apartment, completely alone for the first time since I arrived to London, I realize how little downtime I’ve had lately. It’s funny to think of how bored I was over winter break, back when my only two options of entertainment were going out to eat or going to a friend’s house. Now, I’m barely at my apartment anymore, always out exploring the city.
The next three weekends are going to be madness, as we booked flights to Brussels, Dublin and Amsterdam. I’m excited, but still struggling to find a balance between travel, school, applying to internships, touring the city and staying in touch with friends and family back home. However, the little times I do get to relax at home are useful. They allow me to reflect on everything that has happened, and truly be thankful for this experience.
I had my first day of classes last Monday. During our orientation, one of the staff members here at Faraday House explained how when he traveled abroad, he discovered for the first time how to enjoy learning for what it’s worth, rather than as a way to pass a class and move on. I personally was too tired or jet lagged to comprehend what he was talking about, but after my first day of school, I finally understood.
If you know anything about me, you’d know that I’m the kind of person that hates being uninformed. My phone is filled with several news apps, I get a daily newsletter about what is going on in the world and I spend my free time browsing through different websites learning about any current events I missed. It wasn’t until I left the United States that I realized that I was living in a bubble. I have a great understanding over our political system in America, could tell you the names of all fifty states and their capitals and have a pretty clear understanding of who Obama is and where he came from.
On my first day of classes, I realized I didn’t exactly understand what the United Kingdom is, and had little knowledge of its history. My classes opened my eyes not only to how the rest of the world sees the United States (a very interesting perspective!), but also to the hundreds of years’ worth of history that led to the forming of the United Kingdom. I came home from school that day exhausted from all the new information I learned, and for the first time in my life I was eager to go back to school and learn more, finally putting together the pieces to what I didn’t understand about this foreign nation.
Another amazing thing about my classes is that they take place outside of the classroom. On Wednesday, I went to the British Museum with my Art History class. We learned about the rich history of the museum, dating back almost 300 years ago. The highlight of our visit, however, was seeing the famous Rosetta stone. We learned about its significance, the key to unlocking the meaning behind Egyptian hieroglyphs, and I was amazed to be standing in front of such an important part of history.
After class on Thursday, I took my first ever trip to Harrods, the high-end luxury store. I was amazed at the sheer size of the building, spanning an entire block’s length and with a depth so large I couldn’t see the end of it. Each lobby on the inside had a different design, ranging from Egyptian-themed decorations to crisp white rooms with beautiful jewelry and makeup displays. My roommates and I climbed to the top floor where we had a beautiful view of the rooftops of London.
The tea lounge was set in a sunroom, allowing guests to feel as if though they were sitting on a rooftop deck, but still protecting them from the wintery rain that was drizzling outside. I ordered an Earl Grey tea (a new favorite thanks to one of my roommates!) and Earl Grey crème brûlée with two small biscuits. Although expensive, it was one of the most delicious and beautiful treats I’ve ever had. It was such a “London moment” that we couldn't help ourselves to stop and think about what an amazing experience we were lucky to have. What was possibly the highlight of my day was seeing my first British corgi. I followed it for a few blocks, of course. I found it interesting that in the UK, docking (the process of removing a dog’s tail) is illegal, so this corgi had a big, fluffy tail. I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was to see it!
The following day we woke up incredibly early to catch a bus to Stonehenge. The experience was a bit eerie, as our tour guide told us that to this day there is no real explanation for how the rock formation came to be. Many of my roommates were convinced aliens had something to do with it, but I’m sticking with the theory that it was manmade. However, I do have my doubts as to how people in the year 2600 BC were able to lift 25-ton rocks 30 feet in the air and place them perfectly on top of one another…
Despite all the spooky theories, it really was exciting to be at a place with such worldwide recognition. Although it was freezing, the experience was definitely worth it, and it’s a trip I would recommend to any student studying abroad in London.
After visiting Stonehenge, we stopped at a little town called Salisbury. Our first thought upon arriving to the beautiful British area was how much history and culture is embedded within the city. What many locals just see as streets and shops looked like a glimpse of the past to us. When you live in a suburban town like I do, many of the buildings you see are built in a commercial style with little historical character. Our houses are all built in a similar fashion, our restaurants all follow the same chain-type of design and tall, historic buildings don’t cloud our streets. Salisbury has a history that dates back to the 12th century, and its architecture reflects its ancestry in a beautiful fashion.
The first thing we saw when we arrived was the Salisbury Cathedral. The impressive construction reminded me of the beautiful churches I had seen in Italy, and I was amazed by its incredibly detailed and beautiful architecture. The cathedral has a tremendous inner hall that gave way to several different corridors with beautiful tombs honoring famous bishops and a past prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Another interesting feature that was housed in the cathedral was one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, which inspired the basis of the judicial system both in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States. Unfortunately, when we went, the Magna Carta was undergoing preservation work, so we only got to see a replica. Regardless, it was an exciting way to learn more about our history.
After our visit to the Salisbury Cathedral we grabbed lunch at a local pub and tried the local brews and ciders. We popped in and out of a couple stores and walked around, taking in the rest of the scenery.
The following day we woke up early and went to explore the famous London Eye and Big Ben. The whole place felt like a total dream. As we walked across the Westminster Bridge, Big Ben began to chime and we had another “I can’t believe I’m really here” moment. Despite the bitter cold that was freezing our fingers to death, we took advantage of every photo opportunity we could.
After walking up and down the bridge and taking a mental note as to when we should return to ride the eye, we found a small tea shop in Dean’s Yard, where I enjoyed another cup of Earl Grey tea and a small scone.
On Sunday, we took the day off from touring and stayed at home to do work. I sometimes had trouble focusing on work back at school, but with eight other roommates and a whole city filled with distractions, doing work proved to be nearly impossible. Despite our constant study breaks, I was able to apply to a few internships and we booked our trip to Dublin!
That night, we went to a bar to watch the Super Bowl. It’s a pretty humbling experience to watch something as coveted and sacred as the Super Bowl in a country outside of the U.S. For starters, we walked into the bar and saw an eclectic collection of individuals of all ages and genders. Many were in their street clothes, but every now and then we stumbled upon someone in a football jersey of sorts. We saw people wearing Texas Longhorns jerseys, Green bay jerseys, and one avid fanatic in a Tom Brady jersey.
We got a good laugh listening to the pair next to us. Both were British, one of them clearly more knowledgeable about the United States. I didn’t feel as bad about my lack of knowledge about the United Kingdom after I heard this interaction (it’s better if you imagine it with a British accent):
“But why does it say the Patriots are from Boston? I thought they were from New England?”
“No, New England is a region in the States.”
“Wait, so New England isn’t a state?!”
Another strange American realization came as Idina Menzel sang the national anthem. As we heard the opening chords, we felt a bit of nostalgia for our home country, and found ourselves singing along to our anthem. About halfway through, we realized most people around us had stopped looking at the television and had turned the attention to the Americans with their hands over their hearts singing along with the words on the TV. I felt a small sense of pride as the locals smiled at us as we finished the song.
Unfortunately, the Super Bowl didn't start until nearly midnight in London. We left the bar early and tried to stream the game from a computer at home (which honestly felt like an American crime to watch something so important on such a small screen). To make matters worse, we had a spotty connection and our live stream kept freezing every fifteen seconds or so. After about ten minutes, we gave up and went to bed.
Another week is in the books. This weekend, we will be traveling to Brussels. I’m excited to try an original Belgian waffle, and MAYBE give mussels a shot. If you have any suggestions for things to do this weekend, let me know!