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.

Beautiful London

When professors ask me if I’m excited to return home, I never really want to answer the question. In my last class today, one of them made us reflect on what we enjoyed about the class, and one thing we wished we could have done overall. It was like I had a mini flashback in my mind, as I tried to figure out something different from what the other girls were saying. The great thing was, I couldn’t think of just one thing. My mind jumped from thing to thing, and I still amassed a list of things I need to do in the future.

He also asked for something we thought was meh about the class. I also couldn’t think of one at the time. I really enjoyed exploring London, and I can’t believe how much I love it here. One month isn’t enough, but when would I ever get this chance again? It was all my classes, my classmates, my side trips, the good and bad experiences that made my trip what it was. I am desperately sad that I leave in the morning, but I am so grateful for everything that has happened. Studying abroad is an experience like no other, and I hope that people get to experience it and fall in love with a new country, much like I have. I was born and bred in NYC, but there’s room for two big cities in my heart.

Returning to the USA

What to say about such an intense and positive experience….?!

After a month of near-constant activity, seeing so many things, museums, and meeting new people, it will be a change of pace in New Paltz, waiting for the semester to begin, casually catching up with friends and family. I am so glad I took this opportunity to study abroad. It helped me clarify my future goals and put things into perspective in unexpected ways. I now have a clearer picture of where I want to be in a year, my itch for travel having been temporarily scratched. Ready to relax and reflect. Two final papers on there way. On my way to NYC tomorrow. See you soon!

Magical London

What I like about London is that there are always small gems to find. Through one of my classes, Exploring Cultural London, I was able to find many of these things thanks to my teacher. From the covered markets, to the expensive arcades in Piccadilly Circus, to rooftop bars and boat rides, London has it all.

In the “up and coming” area of Peckham, our teacher gave us an optional thing to visit after class. It turned out to be one of the interesting things I’ve found on this trip. The way up was inside the stairs of a car park, and it was painted bright bubblegum pink. It actually hurt the eyes to look at. At the top, it opened to a view of London with a rooftop bar and an extremely casual restaurant. It was a great end to a class day, just looking at the view and talking.

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The boat ride on the Thames was actually another optional thing at the end of our class. We finished off in Greenwich and the Prime Meridian, then he gave us the option to go back by boat. All of us ended up saying yes, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. Being able to go back to Waterloo Station on the Thames was amazing. I saw so many things I wanted to see, and we passed under the Tower Bridge. It was great to see what we had been talking about in class and being able to identify large buildings in the financial districts made me happy.

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One thing I found with this class is that somehow we were always able to orient ourselves as to where we were because of the first day. The first day we went up on the Shard, the tallest view in London. Seeing the buildings from high up made it easy to spot certain distinctive landmarks from so many areas in London. Even from the plane back coming back from Ireland I could still see them.

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We travelled to Leavesden for my second class yesterday to take in the Warner Bros. Studio Tour for the Making of Harry Potter. Now if you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, this is absolutely a must to see. All the sets, all the props, all the costumes were the originals used in the film at some point in time. It’s really a surreal feeling to walk into the Great Hall and see how the set is and to see how it made all of us feel.

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In just three weeks, I have seen so much of London. I know how to get around on the Underground (the “Tube”) and the South West Trains. The highlight of my trips to the many museums has been the works of art, which until now, I’ve only seen in textbooks. There is nothing like seeing a beautiful painting in person. The Turner Collection, in Tate Britain, alone, is worth the trip here. Nearly every weekday, we travel into central London. During the walks that result from these excursions, I’ve seen many of the notable London landmarks: the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Borough Market, and the many bridges crossing the Thames. I even got to see the last remaining coaching tavern, The George Inn. Fun all around.  The photo above is a shot of the Underground.