One Week Down

Before I left for London, I bought this newfangled iPod in New York City, and without even telling it to keep track, it tells me I’ve walked 101,358 steps since 29 June 2016, the day our study abroad odyssey officially began. My stressed-out belt got some relief, and now, after holding up my jeans all around the city, it’s tightened up up a notch. For those of you who need the math, according to my iPod, 101,358 steps is 48.35 miles, which comes out to about 8 miles per day of walking. Along with my relieved belt, I’ve seen and been to Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Museum of London (twice), Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Kingston (where the classrooms are), the Kingston Museum, Surbiton (where the residence hall is), Fleet Street, Trafalgar Square (had to avoid a protest opposing the UK’s exit from the EU [check the news!]). l’ve eaten the best Indian food of my life, but it can’t keep me as fat. I’ve been walking enough, and I want more. I’m sleeping well and eager for the next new day, and the next, and the next….

I made a fast friendship with a woman from Namibia who shares my love for art, and somehow, we also share a sense of humor. She says, “Dude!” and “Back in the day….” We’re suite-mates in the residence hall, and we’ve already shared several meals of KFC in the middle of the night (but still, the pounds stay off!) She’s works in the curatorial department of the National Art Gallery of Namibia. We’re both taking the Museums and Galleries course. In what better place or from what better person could I get a better real-world accounting of art museum practices outside of the US? Amazing. This are the things I couldn’t predict, I cherish.

I could go on about the all the other people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made from all over: Amsterdam, Michigan, St. Louis, Australia, Manchester (UK), and Queens (NY). I could talk about the anticipation I still have for upcoming trips to Ireland, Paris, and all the many museums.

And on top of all that, I’ve seen now, the same mangy limping fox for the the past three nights, outside, roaming the grounds of my residence hall. It ignores me, does it’s thing (looks for food) without one movement toward or away from me the whole time. I like it, and it makes me invisible.   

The First Time

Happy July 4! Except not, because I’m in London and they really don’t do that here. It is my first time being in a European country, so that’s exciting. When I first got here, it was strange because it hadn’t felt too much different. I expected it to be in your face, like WOW this isn’t the US! It really wasn’t the case. It was still quite different though because the little town we’re in along the Thames River is still quite small and sleepy feeling at times. I was excited, but the excitement didn’t really hit till I went into the heart of London. Seeing Big Ben, seeing the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament, it was just so surreal. My friend told me I would love it here, and I hate to admit that he is absolutely right, although I probably wouldn’t want to prove him right again 😉 Riding the tube just drove the whole point of it being surreal home. “Mind the gap!”

A little comment that I wanted to make though was since this is right after Brexit and the EU referendum happenings and the prime minister resigning, etc, it is a very interesting environment to be in. In central London especially, sometimes you can see little hints of unrest, but peaceful unrest. Other than that, it seems to be business as usual.

As I’m finishing this blog on our July 4 in the USA, it is 10pm here at night. I actually hear fireworks and it is nice that although I had class today, it’s still a little reminder of home.

Waiting

It didn’t occur to me how close my trip was till my friend messaged me asking what else I was doing this week to prepare for my trip. Time really flies when I’m not paying attention… It was just last week that I was on a mini vacation with my family, and it’s like I blinked and now we’re here. I’ve wanted to visit London since I was a little girl, and now I get to live there for a month. Imagine that?

There are many words I can use to describe how I feel about the trip but as my friends can probably predict, the top two are anxious and excited.  Anxious because I can think of a million things I want and need to do before I leave, people I need to see, and the list goes on and on. I want to go walk around Manhattan and have dinner with my friends, see my cousin at her work and have lunch with her (see the food trend here?), and most of all I NEED to pack!

Some things at the top of my list that I needed for my trip is an adapter for my MacBook (I am going there to study after all!), good walking/rain shoes, and a good water proof jacket! One of my friends who’s been to England loves to remind me that the whole thing about it raining often is definitely NOT a joke.

As it gets closer, I get a little bit more excited, and a little bit more terrified each day. It’s different traveling with family or to see family as opposed to traveling completely on my own. Regardless, I’m excited to see what this next month has in store for me. All that’s standing in the way now are a few days, a 7 hour flight, and an empty luggage.

Anticipation

The past’s a convenient fiction. That’s all it’ll ever be. It lets us learn from mistakes and feel nostalgic for lost loves, yes, but memories about it’re malleable. They slip out and down like an erosion. We make of the past what we want. We’re constantly creating and forgetting where and what we’ve been.

The future’s pure fantasy, made solely of what we intend for it. The future’s never happened in the history of man.

So, today’s all there there is. Our lives are a series of todays.

In another week of todays, my today will begin with a summer study session in London. Anticipation fills me with dreams of Big Ben, Parliament, the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Saatchi Gallery, an endless procession of place after place. I’ll be taking two courses: Museums and Galleries, and London and Its Literature. I’ve done the pre-reading, and I’ve looked at all the websites.

The thing about today is, though, there’s no knowing what’ll specifically happen until that specific today comes. In London, there will be new friends never dreamed of, new places, new problems, new smells and sounds. Tomorrow’s todays’re unpredictable, and that’s their appeal. As much as I plan, plot, and look forward, each new today will offer something unexpected. And that – beyond the museums, galleries, and places – is what I can’t wait for. Tomorrow’s todays’re lined up in a row, ready to offer up the unexpected. That’s what I excitedly anticipate. That’s what I’ll be jittery about when I get on and off that plane in a week.

Afterthoughts on the London Experience (Part IV, Conclusion)

We saw the show of Goya Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, epic in scale and elegant in detail. The National Gallery held original paintings and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci – what a treat to see those in person! I know you would have loved it. The Courtauld held paintings ranging from the ancient Renaissance, as well as originals by Georges Seurat, Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Kandinsky, Reubens, Manet… Some of my favorite classical works that I’d often pondered over in art history textbooks, were right there for me to enjoy in all their painterly glory.
Aside from all the fantastic art we saw, both ancient and contemporary, it was quite interesting to immerse myself in the British culture. I learned that the phrase, “Cheers,” for example, can mean “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome.” I was especially impressed with the way the locals in London carry themselves. Everyone was so well-dressed at all times, for every occasion. The elderly women were especially well-put together with elegant coats, hats, scarves and shoes. There was something especially charming about the elderly men of the city, as well… In general, I thought the older folks were quicker to offer a smile and a kind word, than the ones of my own age who seemed a bit aloof. Even the homeless people who had so little, looked cleaner and neater than any I’d seen in New York, and for the most part, had better manners. Another thing I noticed is that in London, stores were more environmentally conscious and encouraged you to bring your own shopping bags. They would give you one if you needed it, but at an extra charge. I wondered if all of the UK and Europe is like this. Now that I am home in New York again, I have been remembering to bring my own shopping bags every time I go out. It’s nice to reduce waste. I am happy to have picked up this good habit in my travels.
All in all, I would highly recommend anyone study abroad. Aside from all I’ve learned, I also gained a sense of poise and confidence in myself – and my ability to navigate the unknown – deeper than anything I’ve felt before.

Afterthoughts on the London Experience (Part III)

In addition to learning the value of and feeling grateful for the presence of my group to depend on, I also learned that there is a priceless value in feeling useful to the people you are with. Before we left, I had scouted out a great deal on prepaid SIM cards that some of us used in our smartphones, having local UK phone numbers and data plans for using Google maps to get around. Within the first few days, I found a new supermarket that had much more reasonable prices than the local one recommended by our program. I was also able to figure out a “journey planner” on the website for Transport of London, helping us get from point A to B to C and home again. I felt an unexpected, deep sense of happiness that the others benefited from my discoveries, and that I felt useful to the group.
Our itinerary for the duration of the two weeks was wall-to-wall, back to back events of all the art, history, and theatre that London has to offer… And what a city to immerse oneself in the arts! London has it all. We saw a play at the Gielgud Theatre in Picadilly Circus, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It was so good, I wept. Not only was the writing and acting excellent, but they had a unique way of bringing the stage to life and making the performance very physical. It was truly art at its finest. We rode the London Eye and got the best view of Westminster Cathedral and the Tower of London… And true to London weather, there was a sunshower that left everything sparkling majestically through the gray on River Thames.
We visited Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Serpentine Galleries, the Courtauld Galleries at Somerset House, the Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens, Kensington Gardens, the British Museum, the Newport Gallery (where Damien Hirst was exhibiting a portion of his private collection). We took a tour of street art and graffiti in Shoreditch, which was perhaps a little too “hip” to be taken seriously (and something about the very idea of a tour of street art didn’t sit right with me)—but nonetheless, it was decidedly very cool to see some Banksy, Space Invader, Swoon, and Endless right there in person. You would have probably really enjoyed that tour, as well as our visit to the Pure Evil Gallery.

Spring Break

Spring Break was the most magical and much needed two weeks of my life. It started off with a trip by myself to a beautiful place called Scarborough, on the northern coast of England. I took the 3 hour train ride and stayed in an Airbnb by myself, which was a lot scarier than I thought it would be. A lot of the time I was on the train was spent worrying and wishing I could jump off and run home to my bed. But travelling alone was something I knew I needed to do for myself, since I tend to be anxious when I’m by myself. I threw myself into this experience and I was determined to make the most of it. After a refreshing night of sleep, I set off to the beautiful Scarborough Castle, the beach, and Peasholm Park, with lots of food stops at cafes along the way. The best thing about traveling by myself was that I was on my own schedule and I could do and eat whatever (and whenever) I wanted. This freedom led to me crawling into secret places in the castle and outside as I explored, and eating at tons of vegan cafes that were making me feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I went back to my Airbnb and blasted music, sang, danced, and did so much yoga. It was a very freeing experience and I laughed more than I had expected to. I learned to have fun with myself and not be scared to explore a place I had never been to. I needed this trip, and I have felt like a different person ever since.

A few days later, my wonderful mother, her fiance, and his daughter came to visit. We stayed in London for a few nights and it was surreal to have them in the place I’ve been living for the past 3 months. I showed them around where I live, led them through the London Underground, and we ate lots of great food. We went on to Scotland for the weekend, starting out in Edinburgh. We explored the Highlands as well. I didn’t think I would enjoy the 5 hour train ride as much as I did, or the 5 hour train ride back to London after they left, but those were some of my favorite hours of my experience here. Having my mom here was amazing, especially since I hadn’t seen her in 3 months–this is the longest we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. Staying in two fancy hotels, being able to take a bath, and having all of my fancy meals paid for was like a dream, and I really missed everything immediately when they all left. I didn’t have much time to think about it though, I went to sleep and got ready to take on Iceland the next day.

Getting to Iceland was more difficult than I expected, but worth every second of traveling. I honestly can’t find the words to explain how beautiful the country is, so I’ll just post some pictures at the end. I had been here two years ago with my mom and one of my brothers, so I got some weird nostalgic feelings walking past everything we had done together, but being in the country by myself was something I’ll never forget. I felt so accomplished that I had done everything I set out to do by the time I got home, and got some more much needed rest.

Spring break seemed like it went on forever, but I cannot believe it’s over, and I only have 2 and a half more weeks in England. I’m off to Paris to enjoy the last week abroad with my mom, and then back to New York…I’ve already started packing and it all just seems like a strange dream. I’m excited for the last few weeks, and eager to go home to my family and friends, and my giant bed. 🙂

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Leaving for England

My last two weeks in New York before leaving for my new home in England were strange. I had just left SUNY New Paltz for the last time, since this semester is my last before I graduate. I was sad for reasons I couldn’t explain, happy to be home, and extremely anxious about starting life in a new place all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. I visited everyone I could–my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends I knew I would miss. I spent more time with my mom than usual because this is by far the longest period of time I have spent away from her.

My last night at home, I had a party with my stepbrother and our friends. I stayed up until 7am with a friend, laughing, drawing on each other, watching stupid YouTube videos, and just enjoying what little time I had left in my beloved basement in New York. I spent the whole day before I left with my friend after we got a few hours of sleep. Driving him home was surreal-he asked me when I was leaving for England, and I replied: “4 hours.” It didn’t feel real. I went home to finish packing and called all of my relatives in case I wouldn’t be able to for a while. My mom made dinner and I couldn’t eat–I felt like if I even talked I would cry! Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond happy to be leaving for England, but I felt so emotional and sad that I wanted to crawl into bed and not ever leave. I barely slept so my plane trip went by in a heartbeat, but when I got to England I was so tired I didn’t think I could make it through customs.

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My friend and I split a cab since the lodgings we’d be living in were around the block from each other. When I walked up to the door of my new home, there was a beautiful butterfly resting on the door handle. I’ll never forget that. I knocked and it flew away, and my wonderful landlady, Frances, opened the door and greeted me enthusiastically. I at once felt safe and comfortable in her presence, but I could barely speak and immediately fell asleep for many hours in my bed. The next few days were a struggle, the jet lag made me emotional in the midst of my excitement of being in England.