Sarah – London
As I was riding the train the other day, I had the epiphany that I actually felt comfortable with myself in the city, not just with the city itself but my relationship with adventure and exploration within London. A few weeks ago, I would not have believed anyone if they had told me that I would be able to tell new incoming study abroad students how to access the city as my flat mates and I did the second day before we left; however, something has changed. I have become more sure of myself.
Therefore, reflecting upon my time in London post-trip, I would have to say that I plan to keep the spontaneity and the confidence that I have gathered and found within myself in London. I was initially anxious about the fact that I did not plan out my trip as thorough as some or as thorough as myself would have a year ago, but I think my approach to this trip that slowly became more carefree was a manifestation of my inner self screaming to be given a break─to be given freedom to embrace the spontaneity that I am not accustomed to in my strategically placed lifestyle. I have learned that setting out to do nothing in particular but finding something spectacular is okay despite the unknowns that I faced when being out alone or not knowing what I would be doing tomorrow. I think my favorite days in London were the days that I just meandered around shops and cafes with friends going wherever our fancies would take us. I am more comfortable with flying and unusual transportation and getting lost and getting unlost, and I am ready to leave the old Sarah behind London and to embrace the new one moving forward.
This past week was filled with many unexpected turns. While I have seen so many sights like Big Ben, the London Bridge, the White Towers, The London Zoo, and more, and I did view the Rosetta Stone in real life which has been a dream of my father and I for many years now, I also contracted COVID for a majority of the week which not only canceled or delayed much of my time and activities here, it also put a lot of things into perspective for me on this trip.
For a majority of this trip, my roommates and I had been walking on average about 17,000 to 25,000 steps a day, which is fine because London is a massive city worthy to be explored. However, paired with the fact that we would come back to the flat each day exhausted and my stomach was not agreeing with most of the foods here because British food has less preservatives so I was eating much less, I think my immune system easily succumbed to COVID regardless of the precautions that I was taking. This COVID has been quite mild, but I have never slept so much in my life.
I think entering this trip I believed that tiredness was a natural part of the experience, but, if I have learned anything from this journey about myself, it’s that I need rest and reset regardless of the grand opportunity that stands before me. Our culture stresses a go-go-go mentality with little regard for our mental and physical health, as I knew that physically that I was exhausted, but I also discovered that mentality I was as well since the pause gave me time to call several family members and friends that I did not realize that I missed connecting with on a daily basis. Like the United States, London tends to stress speed and getting things from point A to point B above quality time with oneself or others, and, coming from the South where things are perceptively slower on the whole, I have come to appreciate my quiet life through the whirlwind life that this trip has allowed me to glimpse into.
As a result of this turn of events, I have spent a couple of weekdays and this past weekend in quarantine resting from sickness and the unbearable heat. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed it. I have enjoyed the lesson of respite that I have learned through unwanted and unexpected circumstances.
After a week and a half in London, I have noticed that I am both more at ease and more at unease simultaneously. I feel fairly confident in navigating London’s Underground, and I have learned that the general silence and efficiency that most Londoners assume in almost every place above ground and underground is not rudeness but cultural curtesy. On some of my first days here, I felt as if I had unconsciously done something wrong when I interacted with staff at restaurants or the people that rang me up in markets, but I quickly discovered that a lack of interaction concerning small talk or even smiles was not on account of myself nor was it on account of others; it was merely my culture shock peeking through. At restaurants in London, you are not constantly waited on as you are in the states nor are your groceries bagged or are you given bags by cashiers at the grocers; most homes and establishments do not have AC; ice is not common in beverages in the city; and I typically walk about 17,000 steps a day. While I do still miss the aspect of Southern hospitality that causes strangers to wave at each other while driving down the road as if they are old friends, I have noticed that many Londoners are willing to do this yet their hesitancy steams from not wanting to break the rhythm of interactions out of normalcy and respect.
However, despite all of the differences, I do think that I am adjusting well to such a new environment slowly but surely. One of the major things that I find myself doing differently these days is the way in which I say “sorry.” As a born and raised Southerner, I was concerned about how my thick accent might give me away─I pronounce sorry (sawry) for reference. Yet, after just a week, one of my flat mates and I have noticed that we have started to pronounce the word in true British form (sorrey). Since one does not say “excuse me” or “pardon me” because that is considered a bit harsh apology-wise in Britain, constantly hearing others say the word and using it myself, I have surprisingly picked up a small accent in that respect, which was something that I joked about with my family that I would do prior to the trip. It is interesting how wanting to blend in and being immersed within a culture can quickly acclimate one to something as small as mannerisms, dialect, and everyday life.
Have you ever done something because you were afraid of doing it?
My family has lived in the same area for nearly seven generations with little room or reason for travel. My home is comfortable. I drive the same route every day for work and school. I live in a town with more fast-food restaurants than fine dining, and don’t even get me started on the stunt of social and cultural experiences I’m sure we’ve all experienced due to COVID. Needless to say, when I started graduate school a year ago, I knew that I was both at ease with my current situation and desperately ready for a massive change all at the same time. That’s when I started to consider study abroad as an option.
I have always wanted to travel for all of the reasons listed above and more, but, as someone who is terrible with directions, who has never travelled outside of the country, and who is an avid fan of checking her bank account just-in-case, I didn’t think traveling abroad was right for me until I spoke with my advisor.
As someone who had traveled abroad when she was a student, she helped me get the ball rolling. I was put in contact with the head of the faculty-lead study abroad program for my major’s department, which is English, that travels to London every year during the summer for about three weeks. I was put in contact with staff within ECU’s Universal Affairs Department, and, when I expressed hesitancy about the cost of tuition, I was notified of scholarship opportunities for the program regularly through my department. With all of the resources behind me, I decided to take the plunge and now the trip is less than a month away!
Don’t get me wrong though, there are still days when I wonder if this was the right decision financially, and I’m afraid of all of the what-ifs that could happen. Although I have received large scholarships and the program is actually a great price for the experience of travel, education, and living situation combined, I urge you, if you are worried about costs, save at least a thousand or two thousand more than you think you’ll need.
Speaking from my own experience, ECU’s study abroad website for my program made it very easy for me to look ahead to plan on what I would be paying for and what would be included in my tuition. Including a plane ticket, the cost of procuring a passport, and any essential travel items you think you’ll need as well as money for during the trip, your finances will be a bit more than just the actual tuition. That being said, tuition payments are typically broken up into increments to make payments more flexible. Whether you have decided that study abroad is for you, or you are just looking, the website is a great planning resource/tool to help you make that choice a little easier.
Am I still afraid of doing something that I’ve never done before or thought that I could do? Yes! Am I excited because I know that ECU has my back? Most definitely!
My London trip will focus on the theme of “Monsters and Magic” and seeing the impact that this type of storytelling has had on the city and has come from the city as well. When looked at from a literature perspective, London is a gothic, mysterious setting that is just bound to have a fantastical story to tell at every corner! Although we are currently reading ahead to prepare for the experiences to come, we will also regularly attend plays and visit famous landmarks to better shape our cultural understanding of the history and writing.
I am looking forward to developing and expanding my artistic and literary tastes as well as garnering insider knowledge of the intricacies of London, and I plan on doing so by touring the city daily and immersing myself in day-to-day aspects such as cuisine and (of course!) shopping.
While I am nervous about navigating the city, I am looking forward to the challenge. I want to try new foods, meet new people, and know how one lives “across the pond.” As a current and future educator of students from all over the world, how can I be expected to show understanding and accommodations for other cultures if I have only experienced my own? Therefore, this trip will not just be a “learning experience,” but I know that it will be a life changing one. I have met so many people from my peers to my dentist who have travelled with ECU’s English Department for the exact same program, and the amount of positivity that has resulted from it for them is overwhelming in the best possible way.
So, ready or not, London, here I come!