Wednesday, January 15, 2014

cheers, london

So.  I realize that you’re probably supposed to write some sentimental post about your semester abroad within, say, ten days of finishing said semester, but in my case that just didn’t happen.  But this is my blog, so I’m the boss and I make the rules.  Also, I’m choosing to rebel against my habitual rule-following tendencies.  That means that you can look at this post as one that displays an absence of punctuality or the presence of personal growth.  I pick option B.  

It’s been one month.

And here I am in my new house at school, with J-Term in full swing (or as much as you can consider a month as low-key as interim in “swing”) and a new routine taking form.  What once consisted of the rooftops of charming English flats, squished together and stretching for blocks and blocks, the view from my window has since been replaced by a brown and white suburban house that was probably built in the eighties, sitting on a spacious and snow-covered yard.  Quite a swap, huh?

When people ask me about my semester, I sometimes get a bit tongue-tied.  Actually, a lot of times.  I don’t quite know how to put to words what this semester was to me.  (Which is silly, really, considering I am now two hundred words deep in this post.)  It’s not because I don’t have anything to say.  It’s because I have a lot to say.  A million billion thoughts twirling about my brain that sometimes meet difficulty when attempting to exit through my mouth in a single file line.  

Do you miss it?  Of course.  I deeply miss it.  With a worried ache that wonders when I’ll get to go back again.  In fact I might need to swear off all forms of social media for a spell, because with all you other folks hopping on your own study abroad trips, the travel withdrawal is coming in hot.  I’m happy to be back.  I love to be surrounded by the people I love most on this planet.  I miss London and I’m happy to be home.  There’s no “but” between the two.  I am both, inconsequentially and uncompromisingly.  

People also like to ask if I came back with an accent and I must kindly reply with a no.  I wish.  But come to think of it, even as I write this now I’m saying the words in my head in an English accent.  And that’s the truth.

On the flight home, I was determined to find a clever way to sum up my trip in one final London post.  But then Brad Pitt was saving the world from rabies in World War Z and I was officially distracted for the remainder of the flight.  The problem is you can’t exactly “sum up” an experience like this.  It’s a million things all at once.  And since I just can’t get London off my mind, here are a few of those million things.

What London Taught Me.

  1. There’s always another train.  Don’t worry so much.  Things work out.  Even if it takes four trains and four hours to get to a place that’s only an hour and a half away… Ask me about our trip to the White Cliffs of Dover the second to last week in London.  Trust me.  You’ll get there when you get there.
  2. Seek adventure.  You don’t have to get on a plane to find it (although that certainly helps).  Let an adventurous spirit draw you into the unknown.  
  3. You can grow up, but you don’t have to grow old.  In Kensington Gardens, there’s a famous Peter Pan statue that always caught my eye.  As the old familiar days of bedtime stories taught us, Peter forever rebelled against a foe far worse than Captain Hook: growing up.  The real enemy, I think, is growing old.  Losing a youthful spirit.  Because let’s be real, if it weren’t for growing up, my parents wouldn’t have let me set foot on that plane in the first place.  We have to grow up.  And it’s good to grow up.  It means new opportunities and adventures, new battles to conquer and new things to learn.  But we must never grow old.  Because growing old means outgrowing a sense of wonderment that keeps the magic in the world.  After all, “The creative adult is the child that survived.”
  4. Mind the Gap.  Between the train and the platform.  Between continents.  Between people’s thinking.  Between ways of living.  Understand that not everyone thinks the way you do, talks the way you do, hopes for what you hope for, cries over what you cry over, or even eats the way you do.  Appreciate and try to understand differences.
  5. Keep learning.  One of my favourite parts of London is that it is covered with (nerd alert) museums.  How come museums were a fundamental component of elementary education, but didn’t make the cut anywhere beyond eighth grade?  What a travesty.  Here’s a story for free: Back in the days when Tweety Bird themed birthdays were a thing, my mom used to read me a book by James Mayhew called Katie’s Picture Show.  In the story, a little girl named Katie takes a trip to the National Gallery with her grandmother.  She wanders off and finds herself sucked into multiple paintings throughout the afternoon, in which she proceeds to nonchalantly chat with the characters in the paintings.  In those days I used to introduce myself to every stranger in Cub Foods, so I can only imagine I would do the same given the situation.  Anyways, the book is based off of real paintings that actually hang in the National Gallery.  And I know it’s true because I went and found them all there the last week I was in London.  How cool is that?  Talk about stories come to life.
  6. Be a lion.  I wish I could say I always lived by that motto on this trip, but that would be a lie.  In Trafalgar Square there are four massive statues of the king of the jungle.  I realize they are, indeed, motionless slabs of rock, but I’d like to think that they’d hold their ground just as much if they were alive.  I’ve never heard of a lion that would crumble in fear.  Lions don’t back down.  And neither should you or I.
  7. Throw yourself to the wolves every now and then.  Get out of your comfort zone, even if it’s terrifying.  Nothing beats the little voice inside your head squealing, “I did it,” when you’ve conquered something that once terrified you, or the aha! moment when you’ve finally got it.  Whatever it is.
  8. There is beauty in the most unlikely places.  One of my favourite days all semester long was back in October, when Maddy and I took the tube to Shoreditch to find a vintage shop we saw in a book.  Emerging from the Underground, the area seemed less than promising at first glance.  Industrial.  Lackluster.  Drenched in rain.  Turning a corner and proceeding in the direction of the shop, we ended up finding the absolute cutest shopping area and our new favourite spot to eat.  Keep your eyes open.
  9. Understand the value of money.  Appreciate it.  Do not obsess.  Yes, it’s important, but it is simply a commodity.  A weekend in Rome can’t be measured in euros.  An afternoon by the sea spent trekking to cliff tops can’t be assessed in pounds.  Money is simply a means of making memories.  Hold it loosely.  And having lived through a semester of abroad expenses, I join Destiny’s Child in proudly singing, “I’m a survivor.”  Flex on these haters. 
  10. Don’t wait around for the perfect opportunity.  (Except el oh el at myself and how long I’ve been waiting around to write this…)  “Let’s just figure it out tomorrow” is the ultimate omen when it comes to booking flights, hostels, and making plans in general.  I’ve come to find that the perfect opportunity does not exist; most of the time you’ve just got to go for it.  So come along now, spit-spot.
  11. See the good in the bad bits.  Because there are bad bits.  In the spirit of honesty, I will disclose that there were indeed days when I wished with all my might that I were not in London.  (Absurd, but true.)  So instead of wasting a day living in London (or, you know, a day living) I had to learn to see the goodness.  Because it’s always there, even if it’s hard to see sometimes.
  12. Walk like a royal.  Know your worth.  Kate Middleton doesn’t have to wear a crown for everyone to know how fab she is.  It’s quite understood.  This doesn’t mean be snotty.  Carry yourself in a way that shows you know who you are and what you’re capable of.
  13. Look at things from different perspectives.  I can tell you that looking at the city from high up in the Eye is quite different from the view from Westminster Bridge, just two minutes’ walk from there.  My dear old dad so wisely reminded me the other day that it’s an incredible gift to be able to truly see things from another’s point of view, yet also very hard to come by.  In this case, trying is what counts.
  14. Take a walk.  Be it down the crowded High Street, through the picturesque Hampstead Heath, the all-familiar Hyde Park, or up the White Cliffs of Dover.  A breath of fresh air, with limbs moving and heart beating, cures all.  
  15. You can’t read the map to your life.  It’s not like the Tube where after a few weeks you’re a seasoned pro and know exactly where to go.  The sooner you (I) come to this conclusion, the better.
  16. Live in possibility.  If spending nearly four months exploring Europe would not lead a person to that resolution, then I don’t know what would.  
  17. Erase expectations.  This was the word of advice I received most often in the months leading up to my departure.  This isn’t meant to be cynical advice to set the bar low so you’ll always be pleasantly surprised, but simply a wish to keep an open mind and an open heart.
  18. You don’t know the answers.  You probably don’t even know the questions.  See No. 19 for assistance in this predicament.
  19. The human soul is not meant to dwell in one place for too long.  This I truly never understood until I moved to Kensington.  I always thought, “I just love Minnesota so much I can’t imagine living anywhere else!”  Well, silly, that’s because you’ve barely ever left the country.  Learning the lay of a different land taps into the resilient nature of the human being.  It moulds an individual to become one who can thrive in unfamiliar realms.  As if that would never come in handy…
  20. Don’t be boring.  Just don’t.  This is London’s best quality, in my opinion.  London is exploding with hidden treasures.  You could never run out of things to do there.  And there is always more than meets the eye.

Well, London.  Until we meet again.  Cheers.

{ here's a few snapshots of my last couple weeks across the pond }
The lovely river town of Hampton.
The White Cliffs of Dover.
At Cambridge University.
Covent Garden at Christmastime.
St. Paul's Cathedral.
The National Gallery.
The Eye.
Window display of the lovely J.Crew on Regent Street.
Oxford Circus.
Sunset outside my window. OKAY.
Abbey Road.
The one and only.
FYI: For those of you who thought this was fun, I’m going to keep this whole blogging thing going and just see what happens.  Because I thought it was fun.  I probably will not continue alerting all of Facebook when I do, though.  So stay tuned here.  And even if no one reads it, I’ll just write into the nothingness and that’s fine by me.