Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
― Terry Pratchett
I’m not completely sure if I’ve ever mentioned it on my blog, but this semester instead of attending my home university I decided to spend the semester abroad. Studying abroad was something I had never considered until senior year of high school when my older cousin (who attended the same university I do now) encouraged me to study abroad because of the great experience he had during his time abroad. His enthusiasm for the semester he spent made me excited. So I planned. Then the original plans slowly crept to the background and were forgotten. Suddenly those original plans came back to life. And here I am.
I am spending the semester in England and so far it has been a jarring experience.
I have nothing truly bad to say about it. Anything negative I feel towards it right now can be directly blamed on my homesickness and struggle to adapt. Instead, I have enjoyed it and know I will enjoy it.
I have never left the United States before now. I never went to Mexico or Canada. In fact, the closest I ever got from leaving the country was going down to Key West and taking a picture with the southernmost point buoy. On top of never leaving, I have never flown alone. I have, however, flown without my parents. But even then it was me and a friend and it’s easier to navigate an airport with someone else.
All of my life I have taken trips with my family and they have planned every part of it. I followed what they had planned or what me and my brother would suggest and my parents would lead the way. I never had to learn how to plan a trip. I did not know the secret backroads to taking a trip. My parents always made it seem effortless and they always seemed to know where we were going. Now that I’m on my own on foreign soil, I feel lost and confused. It takes more than just saying “I’m going to Buckingham Palace today.” It’s finding out where it is, finding the route, and figuring out mode of transportation to that location. Now I can look back at every trip we ever took and any time one of us would say “oh can we go to ___ today?” The contemplation of it being a yes or no was much deeper than I ever thought.
Of all the things I’ve learned so far, I’ve learned to appreciate where I come from and all the little luxuries I’m used to, to appreciate all the different cultures and people that exist in the world, to look at my home with new eyes and truly see the flaws and what I can do as a citizen to help make change, and to stop comparing things. The last one is the one I’m struggling with the most and probably will continue to struggle with it for a while.
I’m currently in this horrible habit of comparing everything the British do different from Americans to what we Americans do. Or comparing my daily life to life back home. Every website I’ve been to says to not do this to help get over homesickness. Yet…here I am. It’s one of those habits that you know is bad but you can’t help but do it anyway. I’m hoping to get into classes tomorrow and it’ll help me with the last pieces of adjusting I need to do. But through the endless comparisons I make, I realize that even though there are differences, they aren’t all bad. In fact, most aren’t.
I love the way the U.K. has decided to do somethings. They are extremely eco-conscious. They conserve water, there’s 3-4 trash bins for specific pieces of trash, recycling is all over campus at every trash can, and all the lights in my housing are motion detectors. Minus the main one in the bedrooms. I do really enjoy this and it makes me feel better when I go to throw away my trash or when I walk into a dark hallway and the lights come on when I walk in. Things are also smaller here. Except the buses. Those are mostly double decker and insane. Where I live people drive big trucks and big SUVs and big vans. Here the cars are smaller. You see less trucks (and even those trucks aren’t that big), SUVs mostly come in the form of crossover, and there are vans but again, smaller. I don’t mind it and the reason ties back in with the eco-consciousness of this country. However, I do miss the luxury of having a car.
Growing up in the suburbs means you have to drive. Everywhere. Unless you’re lucky like me and live in the middle of town right by everything, but if I need something just a little further away, into the car we go. In the suburbs it isn’t common for sidewalks to be busy unless there’s a track team or a handful of cyclists or maybe a family out for a walk. It’s usually dotted with college students around the university and maybe a person here and there. Driving is the main way to get around because the buses don’t run very often. In the town where I go to college, the bus runs every 30 minutes. Even in this town where I am attending school for the semester the buses run every 5-10 minutes. In London, you can catch a subway every 1.5 minutes during peak hours. It’s easier to get around. However, since the town I’m in isn’t a city there is no subway and the buses get frustrating (and confusing for someone like me). I miss having a car where I could get in and go pick something up on a moment’s whim. Instead, going into town is a couple hour ordeal because after two weeks of being here I still get lost every time I try to find the bus stop that takes me home. I also miss the luxuries of having all of my belongings with me (especially my books) and most of all, the luxury of having my family be a 45 minute drive away.
The furthest I’ve ever been from home so far has been 45 minutes down the road. And I went home almost every weekend freshman year (not my best time). Even as I made a home and found a support system in my college town, I still went home once a month. Now I face a few months of not seeing a familiar face and dealing with time zone differences. Being away from my friends and family has been the absolute hardest part of all of this. I grounded myself at my home university through my sorority and having my parents close by. It was rarely a necessity to go home and it was always there in my back pocket. This is a completely new experience for me. Especially as someone who doesn’t deal well with change at first. Which is of course the reason I decided to study abroad.
As someone who did go home a lot I knew I needed to push myself in a direction that being 45 minutes away from everything I’ve ever known never could. I knew I needed to make this push to put myself in a strange situation and see how I would cope with it. You could almost call it an experiment. All I need is a chart and a cool lab coat and I probably could turn this into a social science experiment. I know I’ll grow because I have started to and I’m only at the beginning.
Of course, I look forward to returning home and seeing the people I love but I hope I
leave with a love for this foreign place. I want to leave with a want to return. Who am I kidding? I know I’ll return. When I spent a few days in London, I accidentally walked by the Penguin Random House UK location. I literally gasped and nearly cried. It’s my dream to work at a publishing house and just happening by Penguin was the highlight of my week. All the book gods were looking down at me. Featured is my snapchat I took of it because how beautiful is that?
All in all, it’s been a whirlwind of a two weeks. A lot has happened and I’m still adjusting. It’ll be a hot minute or two, but I know in the end I’ll be one hundred percent happy to be here.
I hope to keep you updated as more happens but I rarely find myself sitting down to write anymore. Let alone read. (Side note: I started A Court of Thorns and Roses and it has me hooked but hooked with very little time to read so I hope I can pick it up again soon)