Traveling on My Week Off

Half way through the semester Kingston has what is called Enrichment Week also known as Reading Week. This week is supposed to be where you get ahead on the work for the next half of the semester, but no one does that obviously. It is like spring break at New Paltz. People are supposed to do work during it, but that barely happens (unless you have a paper or test right when you get back). Since they barely give work here most kids either go home or go on trips. As a study abroad student, I obviously made plans to go somewhere during this break.

My first stop was to see my friend who is studying abroad for the full year in Munich. She was kind enough to let my friend and I stay in her apartment the few days we were there. She was a huge help in showing us around and the fact that she understood the language really helped. She was a great tour guide and showed us everything we wanted to while we were there. We even were luck enough to see a Russian opera in Munich. It was so nice to catch up with her and talk about everything and anything with her. Munich is such a pretty city and I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about going.

My next excursion—after a day or two of rest and exploring London—I was headed to Amsterdam with a tour group. We didn’t have much time in the city itself, but it was still a lot of fun. We had two nights there and the days were either traveling or seeing some of the cities around Amsterdam. We saw Edam and Volendam, which were both beautiful and worth the visit. I also got to go to Anne Frank’s house. That is definitely something you want on top of your list when you go to Amsterdam. You do need to get tickets ahead of time, but it is worth it. You walk through their hiding space and walk in the same space they lived in for two years. It is a moving experience and is definitely a must see.

I had a great time seeing different countries during my week off. I wish I had more time to explore more countries, but that just means I need to return to Europe in order to see more countries that I wanted to see. The week was a lot of fun and made me want to travel more. I highly recommend traveling to as many countries as you can while you study abroad because it is so easy to get around—as well as is very cheap to travel.

Being Comfortable Across the Pond

I have now been in England for a little bit over a month and the more time that I spend in England the more I love it. Everyone is very accepting. On my campus there are people from all over: study abroad students (for one semester as well as the year), Englanders, and people who are studying here for the full three years to get their undergrad. The campus also has a club called Connect UK where they give free lunches every Tuesday and anyone who wants to talk to international students can come! I go every Tuesday to talk to other study abroad students as well as the free meal.

As I got more comfortable here, I started to plan more trips out of the country. I am seeing my friend in Germany who is also studying abroad as well as traveling to Italy with my family when they come visit me. I also have people visiting me whom I can show around and act like a real Londoner. I really do feel like I am from here. I go into London at least once a week, so once I take the twenty-minute train into Waterloo I know exactly where to go and how to travel around.

Not only am I getting more comfortable with the towns, I am also getting comfortable with the classes. The teachers are all very nice and I feel comfortable enough to go up and talk to them if I have an issue. Students’ attendance is very different from New Paltz though. Some students leave after they have signed in or leave during a break and have another student sign them in or just have someone else sign them in. I, personally, do not do this because I am paying for the class as well as the classes only meet once a week, so if I do not go to the class then I am not attending the class for the week.

Traveling Anywhere and Everywhere

So far I have been in England a month and have gone to many places. I have been into Central London 7 times seeing a bunch of different tourist destinations and museums. I have been to Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, the National Gallery, took a tour of Buckingham Palace and took a tour of the famous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I have seen the London Eye, Big Ben/Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leister Square, and explored the South side of the River Thames. I have taken every chance I have to go into Central London. Central London is like New York City, but it is also completely different. Everyone is a tourist there so you don’t feel weird or feel like you are bothering anyone by stopping to take pictures. Everyone is very nice as well! I have had to asked directions or questions to the police or workers of the tube. If you ask nicely they will be nice to you. Also, travel where you want to go! It’s okay to go see things by yourself. I have seen many things by myself because my friends aren’t interested in seeing it or our schedules clash.
I have also gotten to go out of the UK once. This past weekend I went with a tour group to Ireland. It was a lot of fun! If there are tour groups that your school supports then I would highly suggest that you go! I saw so much more than I would have on my own. I saw small things that most people just pass by. I wish the trip was a little longer, but there is only so much you can do while classes are in session. I highly recommend traveling as much as possible because it is very cheap once you are in Europe to get to a different country.

Classes Across the Pond

Classes here are different than SUNY New Paltz. The classes only meet once a week instead of twice like at New Paltz. The students also know each other since they are in the major that the class is a part of. The workload is also less assignment heavy. I only have one or two assignments for each class along with some readings. They do expect you to actually do the work, so you cannot just skate by without doing the readings. The readings are helpful to me since I need to keep my mind busy in order not to miss my family. I am excited to take the classes I am though. They seem very interested. I am only taking half of the class because they have classes that run the full year. It is nice since you do not need to feel so overwhelmed with the entire classes curriculum.

I was a bit overwhelming for me since it was something else I needed to get used to. It is slowly getting easier, but it was difficult at first. The teachers and students are very nice and friendly; it was just something else I needed to get used to. It is only week two of classes, but I am taking it week by week and slowly my time here will have gone by. Having schoolwork to do helps me not feel as homesick (as well as Netflix). Besides classes, I have been Skyping with my family as much as I can so they know what I have been up to with classes and traveling. It stinks that I have to experience all these cool things without my family, but I am making videos and sharing videos of my pictures with them.

Adjusting: Culture Shock is Real

I definitely experienced culture shock when I first arrived in England. It was not a walking town like New Paltz. I was in a dorm in the middle of a neighborhood where it’s a 15-minute walk to a town. I was mainly overwhelmed with having to take buses everywhere I went and having to buy food for every meal. I slowly got used to it, but it was difficult at first. I was very open with the friends I had made since I arrived, so I didn’t feel so lonely with everything. They were experiencing the same things I was. That was a great thing to do because I felt so much better after. What made me feel better was knowing that other people were feeling the same way I was.

I also let my family know how I was feeling. With the help of my family, I took it day-by-day and focused on the next big adventure—normally a trip into central London. In order to make myself feel better, I made countdowns to everything: my Ireland tri, when my aunt and cousin are coming, when my family is coming to see me and when I am leaving. Another big thing that my sister told me to do was to keep my mind busy. I made sure to keep myself busy that way I didn’t get homesick as easily. I had to get UK Netflix in order to stay busy, but it gives me something to do at night. I also started hanging out with my flat mates more, which helped a lot.

I do not feel as overwhelmed or homesick anymore since I have been keeping myself busy, but I know I will always miss my family. I will see them soon enough, though. Plus, there is always Skype and FaceTime. I chose to study abroad because it was a dream I had since I was in high school. Now that I am finally here, I am going to make the most of it since I am only here for a short time. It makes me feel better knowing I am here for only a short time because it means I will see my family in a few short weeks. I just need to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone because I know I will love the experience after it is done.

First Days Across the Pond

It did not hit me until we were about to land that I was going to be living in England for a few months. I was nervous to be alone in a completely different country. I had never been out of the United States; so flying internationally by myself was enough to make me nervous. I luckily had people that I knew traveling with me, but that did not help me feel comfortable with living by myself in a different country. It took the pressure off of the flight, but not of the entire study abroad experience.

Once I got off the plane I had to go through customs/immigration. Everybody was really nice and spoke in a British accent. This is when I realized that I was finally living out a dream I have always wanted. Since high school, I have loved everything British. I loved British novels, British stores and their culture. There I standing in front of immigration and I was about to live out my dream of living in England for a few months.

I was fortunate enough to get picked up from the airport, so I got to see the streets of England while relaxing on a coach bus. I was fascinated how the bus driver could maneuver their way around the small streets. There are also a lot of roundabouts, which made me smile because it was not something that we have in New York. The people that were from the University that picked us up from the airport were very nice and made sure that we were okay. I was both excited and nervous to start this experience.

Preparing for the Journey to England

When I started packing for England, I thought that I would definitely be able to put all the things I needed to bring into one suitcase, but that was not the case. Since I could not fit everything that I needed into my suitcase, I knew that the first day that I arrived in London would be a day where I would be shopping. I did not like this so much because I would have liked to been able to just relax after the flight.

Other then packing, I was also worried about being away from home. I am a family oriented person and being in a different country with no way to go home and see them was very scary to me. I knew I was going to have fun being abroad, but the fact that I would not be able to physically see my parents and sister was not something I ever wanted to happen. In order to make my situation better, I helped set up Skype with my parents and made sure I would be able to video call them whenever we were both free.

Don’t get me wrong I was very excited to be able to learn with British students and experience a different school system, but I was still scared of some things. I kept telling myself that my classes were going to be a lot of fun as well as I would be able to travel and experience different cultures easily. Studying abroad, to me, have pros and cons, but the pros out weight the few cons by a land slide. I knew it was going to be difficult at first and that I will really enjoy getting to do experience England as a student.

Jumping off Diving Boards in Slow Motion

Destination: Kingston University, London, UK.
Time: Fall Semester.
Day: -10.

I’ve been getting little daily freakouts with increasing intensity.

Especially every time I fill out the date on a special order slip at work, I feel it. The quiet roar of a sensation not dissimilar to jumping off a diving board. This feeling continues in slow motion for me throughout my days, now that my departure date is less than two weeks away. But every so often time accelerates as I realize how close I’m getting to my first real adventure. I still can hardly believe it’s actually going to happen. It still feels so much like a dream in my head.

I’ve been buying the things necessary for studying abroad. A new contact lens exam and box of lenses. The cute little doo-hicky that will keep my laptop from exploding when I plug it in. Melatonin for the jet lag. A more convenient haircut. I’ve also been taking care of more important things, such as applying for an absentee ballot to vote in one of the most important elections in American history. Trying to pare down my wardrobe to two weeks’ worth of clothes. Reassuring my dog, Lucy, that I will Skype her every week. Saying goodbye to as many friends as I can before I board that plane.

And still, doing this intricate dance just a few steps at a time, I feel like I might be forgetting something vitally important. And at the same time, in the back of my mind, I know everything’s going to be okay.

In short, I can’t tell whether my stomach is full of spiders or butterflies.

It’s a delightful kind of a mixed bag telling my friends, family and teachers my date of departure, the primary question I’m being asked these days. There’s one big detail that never fails to make it weird.

“So, when are you leaving?”

“Uhhhh – September 11th.”

[face] “OHHHhhhh, great!…”

And then I say, “It’s the cheapest day to fly.”

And the other person doesn’t know whether it’s a joke or not. So I clarify, no, literally, it is not. My plane ticket was about $100 less than it would have been two days earlier or later. I always feel like it’s important to justify picking this particular departure date, since it gives everybody so much ageda and anxiety when I tell them. Either that, or I choose to say “I’m leaving in ___ days!!” Which makes it a lot less awkward, unless they’re really quick at math.

I think it’s unfair for spectres of the past to inhibit living spirits’ journey into the future.

While I have a lot of irrational fears crowding my peripheral vision of the future, I think that once I get there, the place I’ve been wanting to visit since I was a wee know-nothing, everything will fall into perspective. This is a story I want to be able to tell. And I’m sure I will find myself, just a little more, because I learned today from brilliant theatre artist Becca Blackwell that “[No one] is ever complete.” So I don’t need to be scared if all of me isn’t waiting to be discovered in London. I don’t need to be scared of a scary date. I don’t need to grieve over unlived losses. The future is nigh, and it’s probably going to be awesome.

So, some really cool things:
– I will watch the wake of Brexit from the point of view from those least represented in that decision, the youth population.
– I will catch a glimpse of the first Muslim Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn’s, first term in office.
– I will visit the locations of incredible archaeological and geological wonders, such as Avesbury, Stonehenge, and Newgrange (because nerd!).
– I will take a weekend to go out and see my namesake city, Geneva Switzerland.
– I will see some of the best professional theatre in the Western world, performed in the Motherland of English-speaking actors, London UK.
– I will make connections with fellow performers and theatre-makers abroad, broadening my post-graduate work opportunities abroad.
– I will learn all kinds of legit dialects, and hopefully some very useful additions to my actors’ toolbox.
– I will learn how language influences culture, and vice-versa.
– I will eat fish and chips.
– And I will produce all kinds of creative work unlike anything else I’ve made, while having fun and making memories.

I can’t wait. I hope this experience changes me forever.

In the meantime, I look at sunsets in the Catskill mountains with additional attention, as if I could manage to say goodbye enough to them. I imagine possibilities in my head how the SUNY New Paltz Fall Theatre shows will come out, and try not to cry about having to miss them. I watch as much Doctor Who as I can, in a vain effort to catch up to Peter Capaldi before I leave. It’s not gonna be easy to go ten days from now.

I wait, mid-dive, in a surge of slow time, as a new and unscryable eternity approaches.

My reflection, now’s face, stares back at me as I inch closer and closer to what I look like underwater.

“What lies ahead? I have no idea. I am on the verge.”
-Mary Baltimore, On The Verge, by Eric Overmeyer.

The Conclusion

After being home for about a week, it seems so strange to think that I was in a different country last week. Back home, it feels the same, nothing too outstanding that’s different. It’s weird to think that I’ve changed, because I left for a month and had all these new experiences. Let me tell you, I was NOT ready to get back on that plane to come back to NY. Part of me still feels that way. Above all, I’m grateful for the experiences that I’ve had, the friends I’ve made, and I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. Its weird to think that if I never had a friend that studied abroad, never went to the study abroad fair to see him or to check it out, never had the encouragement of friends to apply, to click the damn button to submit the application, to me chickening out and someone clicking it for me…the whole month never would have happened. It was one of the busiest months that I’ve ever experienced, and that’s saying something. From being in London right after they voted to leave the EU, to visiting Paris in its current climate and feeling some of that fear in the air… its something that is different from just reading about it in the papers. I was in London when they got their new prime minister and it really was business as usual. Seeing the world news in person instead of reading about it is a most fascinating experience.

And, for my mini recap, a pic of me in each country I visited:

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The first class at the top of The Shard

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Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)

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Wales (UK)

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Top of the Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)

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Tower Bridge (London, UK)

I didn’t know I’d appreciate a country so much after just one month. It’s been one hell of a ride London. Much love, and till next time, Cheers! 

Home and Reflection on My Time Abroad

Home now for two nights and two mornings, and I’m waking up at 5am and ready for bed by 6pm. This jet-lag will wear off soon, but the memories of last month will remain. I miss most the busy and exhilarating days with new friends, walking to new museums, seeing the sights and sounds of London.

The whole time we were there, the weather was beautiful, 70-80 degrees, sunny, partly sunny.

I’ll keep in touch with my new friends around the globe via social media. The world is smaller that way.

Academically, I’ll miss the two professors I had, both exceptionally skilled at teaching and conveying both the conceptual and practical aspects of their respective specialties (British Literature and Museum Studies).

It’s been great relating my experiences to my roommate since I’ve been back. He recognizes the unique opportunity I’ve had.

As the United Kingdom takes steps to leave the European Union and as we look forward to a close presidential race in this country, I’ve recognized the need to remain engaged in world events, and to see how different trends transcend borders and effect the world community. My study-abroad experience reinforced my belief that understanding and seeing other parts of the world leads to a desire for greater engagement with and within the world. This is still one big place.

I look forward to seeing how my new friends are getting on, and I’m looking forward to future adventures in New Paltz.