Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Finale


“How was London?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question since arriving back in the states a few weeks ago. I knew it was coming and I was excited to talk about it, but now the only answer I can muster up is “It was really great!” and I leave it at that. How do I even begin to explain the last four months to someone without talking them to death? How do I convey the gratitude that I have and the immeasurable amount of personal growth I experienced from living independently (for the most part) in a foreign country that I grew to love and think of as a second home? I’m still trying to figure that out and I’m not sure that I ever will truly find the right words to encompass my time abroad.

I wrote most of the following post while I was still in London and I finally got around to finishing it up…

Hi again! It’s been a while since my last post and I’m quite sad to say that this will be my last one while abroad in London, England. I am currently sitting in the waiting area at Heathrow Airport, awaiting the announcement of my gate number. I feel really odd saying that because it truly seems like just yesterday that I was sitting at the wrong gate in JFK with a ton of jitters and apprehension about what lied ahead of me. Now, four months later, I am calmly waiting to return home and reunite with my friends and family after being apart for so long. I am very excited to be back but this post isn’t going to be about that. I wanted to take the little time I have left at the airport to write about my study abroad experience in London, and how it changed my life for the better.

I think that I’ll break down my thoughts into a list of some of the top moments of my semester abroad. It’ll be much easier to cover everything and hopefully keep your attention. So here I go!

(These are not in any particular order…)
·         Okay so first of all I’m going to have to say meeting Rupert Grint twice in a pub was definitely one of the highlights of my semester life. Just being able to walk up and talk to someone I never dreamed of meeting in real life in such a chill atmosphere was incredible. As a huge Harry Potter fan it was definitely the cherry-on-top of a very Harry Potter filled trip. Between my trip to the Warner Brothers Studios in Watford to see the making of Harry Potter and my weekend in Edinburgh where I saw the Elephant Café and the inspiration for Diagon Alley, the past four months have been absolutely filled with magical adventures. My inner twelve-year-old was smiling from ear-to-ear the whole time.


·         The friends that I made this semester are a huge reason why it was such a successful and happy time for me. I was apprehensive that I’d have the same friends I made during orientation throughout the whole semester, but we all stuck together and I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like without them. Anna, Megan, Matt and Amy were four of my closest friends in London and each hold a special place in my heart.

I talked to Anna on Facebook before the trip and neither of us realized that we’d be spending so much time together over the next four months. I thought that she was a little out of my league friend-wise because she was so pretty and in a sorority. That sounds silly now and I think that’s another beautiful thing about this trip, because I don’t categorize people as often. You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and isolate yourself from socializing with people who aren’t too similar to you. Anna ended up being my roommate during orientation and we’ve been best friends ever since. She has challenged me in ways that not many people have in my life and I think that our differences make the friendship worthwhile. I learn so much from her every day and I don’t know if I would have been organized or motivated enough to see as many beautiful places as I did without her. She’s always on top of things and has a ton of energy so on our trips she would really push me to experience as much as I could while we had the chance. I was frustrated at times because she was so much more athletic and able to cope with the aches and pains of traveling better than I could. When I look back on it all I’m thankful to her because I don’t think I would have gotten to see as much if I had just stopped to rest a lot. The fact that we traveled so much together really made us close because we experienced things that only we can understand and relate to. She wrote me a beautiful goodbye letter that brought me to tears in the cab on the way to the airport. She wrote that some people come in to your life and leave so easily but that she doesn’t believe that will happen to us. I couldn’t agree more! It’ll be hard to stay on the same page when we’re not living anywhere near each other but I feel like we’ll always be able to meet up and have a great time traveling or reminiscing. I’m excited to write her letters and send her silly messages when we both have texting again.  She’s a special person and I’m so thankful we ended up as roommates that first day.

I met Megan at Wagamama during orientation and I spent more time with her during the other activities we had planned. I joined her, Anna, Matt and Noelle for the self-guided tour around London during the first week and we’ve been friends ever since. Since her, Matt and Anna live in Alexander Fleming, I would take the tube over to Old Street to meet up with them for travel planning, comedy night or just to hang out. I really liked Megan from the start because she was so easy to get along with. She’s very sweet and good at holding a conversation. We like a lot of the same things so it’s always nice to talk to her about Jimmy Fallon clips or how she almost went to St. Michael’s for school. She goes to Emerson in Boston so I’m excited that I’ll be able to meet up with her easily when we’re both back in the states. She writes for Her Campus and I spent countless hours looking through all of the articles she’s written and I must say that she is quite talented. I feel like I’ll be reading her stuff in big name magazines one day. I think that as the semester went on we definitely bonded more and more with one another. Now when I say something silly she’ll just roll her eyes and laugh and say “Sheilaaaa!” That’s something I’ll miss a lot. I love joking around with her and I know that she’s always there to listen when I need her. I hope she knows that I’m there for her too, even though she doesn’t talk as much as I do, haha!

I met Matt during orientation as well and my first impression was that he seemed quiet and really nice. I didn’t realize that he was the same person who had posted such a friendly introduction in the Facebook group pre-departure. When I finally made the connection I was surprised because he wasn’t as forward as I thought he would be. As I got to know him I realized how amazing he is at everything he does. He’s so organized, driven and creative and hearing about all of his experiences with modeling, acting, graphic design and everything else he does was incredible. He really inspired me to aim high and work hard. I also admire how he is so personable and easy to converse with. We could go on for hours swapping stories and making jokes. It’s rare that you meet someone as well-rounded and down-to-earth as Matt. I’m really happy that we’re friends and I know that he’s going to go so far in life. I’m excited to see where he ends up and I’m totally going to brag to all of my friends about how I knew him way back when. (I’m kidding, Matt. I won’t have to brag because I’ll probably be your manager and at the very least I’ll be “Auntie Sheila” to your kids.)

Finally, I met Amy during orientation as well. She was really sweet and I remember thinking she was so friendly and talkative amongst the group of nervous study abroad students. It ended up that she had three out of four classes with me and we lived in the same building. I don’t know what I would have done without her in my film theories class and all of them for that matter. We definitely relied on each other to get through three hour lectures and long tube rides to Harrow. She was always really supportive and caring when I needed a friend and I hope that I was there for her too. We had a lot of weekend trips planned throughout the semester so I didn’t get to spend as much time outside of class with her as I would have liked but our trip to Edinburgh was a nice treat! I hope that since we live rather close to one another in America that I’ll see her from time to time. She’s a great friend and I wish her all the best!

·         Another thing that I loved about study abroad was all of the little things that were easily accessible on a daily basis. Whether it be museums, shows,  concerts, the zoo, or a walk through the park, I always felt like I had something new to see and I didn’t have to go too far to experience them. All of the things I just listed were either free, student discounted or completely worth the money and time. I will miss that when I’m back in Wappingers because I won’t be able to just hop on the tube and go somewhere new for a few hours. Being surrounded by historical and beautifully maintained places all of the time was a real blessing.

 ·  Liz came to visit me and we go to see one of our favorite artists, Ed Sheeran, at Royal Albert Hall. It was absolutely incredible and definitely one of the most memorable experiences I had in London.

·         My host visit was one of the best experiences I had while abroad. I made two amazing friends when I met John and Christine and I am so thankful for the time we had together. We bonded over Hanson and they showed me so much love and hospitality. They even took me to see Harry's Styles old bakery in Holmes Chapel. That was really awesome to see. I couldn’t have asked for a better host visit and I am so happy that it has extended beyond the confines of one weekend. They recently came to London and took me to the Viking Exhibition at the British Museum. How cool is that? They are such special people and they will always be dear to my heart.  I will miss them very much but I know that they will come visit me one day. After all, I have to take John to West Point and go to a Hanson concert with Chris!

·         One of my favorite memories of the past semester was my experience at the red carpet of the Brit Awards. The cold and suffering we faced outside of the O2 Arena is a distant memory now and I can appreciate our perseverance.  We waited outside for over 14 hours and it was something that I’ll probably never do again, but I will never forget it. At the end of the day I walked away having met One Direction, so that’s definitely a happy memory for me.

·         I still can’t get over the fact that I heard British accents every day for four whole months. I will forever think of elevators as “lifts,” lines as “queues,” checks as “bills,” trunks as “boots” and fries as “chips.” I really loved the way that British people spoke and I will definitely miss hearing their beautiful accents all of the time.
 
·         I loved re-visiting The Breakfast Club and Nonna’s Kitchen a few times during my stay because they definitely became two of my favorite restaurants. I felt like a real Londoner once I’d gone to each multiple times. I’ll miss the smoothies and banana bacon French toast from The Breakfast Club and the pizza and gelato from Nonna’s Kitchen. Mmmm gelato….

·         Anna and I got free tickets to see a taping of BBC Three’s “Sweat the Small Stuff,” hosted by Nick Grimshaw and it wouldn’t have been possible for us to get in without the kindness of strangers. We showed up thinking that we were guaranteed entry, but we realized that we didn’t have priority bookings. The line was so long and we were about to throw in the towel when Beth, a girl I’d spoken to in line earlier, approached us and said that her and her father realized that they had two extra tickets. We were shocked at how kind they were to us and I really loved talking to them and sitting with them during the taping. They were so funny and kind. I’m glad that I found Beth on social media because I definitely owe her a concert or a place to stay if she ever comes to America.

·         Weekend trips to other countries such as Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy were a really huge part of my time abroad. I got to see so many famous landmarks and experience different food, languages, infrastructures and cultures in such a short period of time. Thanks to the cheap airfares we found and the low-cost hostels, my friends and I were able to spend a lot of our weekends traveling. We definitely became so much closer while traveling and I am thankful that I got to share those experiences with such lovely people. From the pastel-colored houses and vineyards on the cliffs of Manarola, Italy to the green, sheep-filled pastures of Ireland, I saw the beauty of Europe on a budget and in a small amount of time. It was thrilling and unforgettable. Traveling ignited the spark inside of me and now I’ll live with wanderlust until the day that I die.

·       Anna and I went to the South of France and Italy for ten days at the end of my trip. We started in Marseille, France where we stayed at an Airbnb apartment. Basically, Airbnb is when someone rents out a room or their apartment to strangers for a low price. It’s a great option for low-budget travel accommodations if you are traveling with someone and are willing to take a risk. Our experience at Sebastien’s apartment in Marseille was far better than we could have hoped for. While we were there we met Isaac, a teacher and poet from Nice, France (our next stop) who was writing a book about happiness in his free time. He was so kind to us and his English was really good. When we arrived in Nice, he met up with us and we found out that he has a three-year-old daughter named Camille. She was precious! We spent the day with them and walked through Nice holding Camille’s hands and listening to her stories and songs that were completely in French. Isaac bought us gelato and translated Camille’s stories as much as he could. At one point she gave us both flowers for our hair and told us that she wanted us to take them home and plant them in our gardens. My heart melted when she said that.  I was so grateful to be spending the day with such kindhearted people who were willing to spend time with people they barely knew and show us around their city. I will never forget Camille’s little giggle, her Frozen shirt, her fire-engine red curls and her cute little French song about fish. I could see that Isaac loves her so much and that they are both loved by the community as well. The next day, Isaac took Anna and I to a Russian Cathedral in Nice and told us how he loves to go there because it is so peaceful and beautiful. When we left, he gave us two tickets worth 20 Euro each for the Aquarium in Monaco. We were so overcome with love for this man who treated us like family and asked for nothing in return. I wish him all the best in life and I hope that one day we’ll meet again. 


·         The view from my room was incredible, and definitely a highlight of living in Marylebone Hall. I saw at least three rainbows, amazing rain clouds that suddenly appeared in the bright blue sky, and the buildings and landmarks of London, sparkling against the black night sky.
·     

    I really enjoyed the Royal Parks and I wish that American parks were as beautiful and well-maintained. I could stroll around Regent’s Park for hours and never get bored. Primrose Hill on a beautiful, warm day can’t be beat. People lounge and picnic all over the green grass and football games are always happening all around. Parents push their children around in strollers and buy ice cream cones at the little concession stands. The brightly colored flowers and gorgeous fountains are breathtaking. I especially loved the little paths that would trail off into various areas of the parks as if you were in Wonderland.

·     On our second day in Rome, Italy, Anna, Matt and I decided to visit Vatican City. We were sick of waiting in long lines and paying for entry to everything at that point but when we walked up to the piazza, we flowed straight through security into the crowd as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Amazed at the amount of people there and still reeling from our quick and free entry, we neglected to realize that it was Wednesday and Pope Francis' General Assembly day. Trumpets started to play and he appeared in his little Pope-mobile and worked his way through the crowd, blessing babies and greeting the people. Matt and I almost cried because it was truly one of the most amazing things we've ever experienced. We stayed for the small mass and got to hear the "Our Father" sung in Latin. It was so incredible to be there and witness that without even knowing that we were in for.

All of those things remain in my heart and my mind and I am so thankful that I could experience a life in which reality was better than my dreams. London was a challenge for me at first and I feel like I accomplished something by growing to love it there. I flourished as a person and I hope that all that I learned about life, travel and myself will stay with me forever. I would go back in a heartbeat and I know that I will be there again one day. It will never be the same again, but that’s the wonder of travel. Every place brings a new adventure and if you go back looking for the same old thing you will always be disappointed. Travel is spontaneity and adventure. Travel is packing enough for ten days into a small Jansport backpack. Travel is making friends with strangers who change your life forever. Travel is trying new food and realizing that not all pasta in Italy is amazing. Travel is feeling like your feet are going to fall off if you climb another monument to see a panoramic view of a city. Travel is the realization that home is the best place in the world after months of exploring.

I want to be a traveler. I refuse to stay in one place for the remainder of my life. I will go back to Europe and beyond. London taught me to embrace things outside of my comfort zone and to live each day to the fullest.

I am forever changed.

Until we meet again London,
xx Sheila

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