I have been dreaming of going abroad since I started at Harvey Mudd; eating croissants while looking at the Eiffel Tower, riding a boat on the River Thames, wandering the halls of Parliament. Coming abroad this semester remains my best decision, to see more of the world and get a chance to take amazing classes that I can’t take at Mudd. Going abroad is a dream come true, but so far that’s all that it has been, a dream. Now that I’m actually facing it, I am scared beyond belief, terrified. I’ve never traveled as far as Europe, add in being alone and I’m facing the unknown.
I woke up the day of my 14-hour plane ride and thought to myself, can’t I take anything else with me? Can’t I take that pillow that I’ve had since I was five? What about the stockings still hung by our Christmas tree that have my family’s names on it? I felt like I was leaving so much behind, and then I got on the plane and realized, sheesh, I have too much stuff! I took a plane to LAX, where I would go straight to London Heathrow Airport, and I was indifferent. I’ve traveled this route by plane often enough to get back and from school that I was lulled into a sense of calmness. Meanwhile, my family waved goodbye after my mom hugged me tight and my sisters made me promise to buy them tons of souvenirs.
On the hour-long layover in LAX I called my best friend and said my last goodbyes, which were in a way, worse than my goodbyes with my family. Then, I said goodbye to my awesome roommate Hu, and we promised to watch many movies together via Skype and I told her that I would mail her chocolate by the box-full (Now, I may need to retract that statement, because international shipping is expensive!). Finally, I sat down and waited. I charged my devices like crazy, took advantage of the last wifi I would get for nine long hours and basically did everything but think about the trip ahead. I watched as the plane took off, as I left U.S. soil for six months and my chest tightened, but I felt exhilarated. I was so wired the entire flight that I barely slept, and it was cramped! My legs kept falling asleep.
When we started flying over Britain, the first thing I noticed was all the green. There was so much green. Then, as we pulled into the airport, I looked for familiar buildings and architecture, and to my surprise, I didn’t see a lot. There were no glossy skyscrapers or fancy department stores. There were no strip malls or billboard ads everywhere. Instead, there was brown and green, old colonial houses that were connected and took up every block. Restaurants and shops occupied the bottom floor of these houses, but the rest of the buildings were occupied by tenants! I was overwhelmed beyond belief and tired.
Customs scared me half to death, I kept having that irrational fear, where some mess-up would get me rejected from customs and I would have to leave the country. I had all my papers ready, and as expected, they waved me through to get my luggage. After, I had to hail a taxi, and jeez (Word of advice, DO NOT TAKE TAXIS if you don’t need to. They are extremely expensive because they can charge either by time or by distance, whichever they pick, usually the more expensive one). I spent the entire ride looking out the window as I headed to the hotel for my IFSA-Butler orientation. While I was heading into Central London, again I was hit with culture shock. There were only a few tall buildings above three stories and there were no flashing lights, no neon signs. However, right before we got off the highway, I saw an ad for the new Iphone 6, so I knew some things were universal.
At the hotel, I had to make a judgement call. Wifi was not free, but I had no working service there, I missed my family, and had no one to contact until the start of orientation the next day. I made my choice, coughed up money for wifi for the rest of my stay and proceeded to call my mom and sigh in relief. I made it. One day down, 166 days to go.