Ending Things

I have been home for six days now and couldn’t be happier.  You’re probably expecting me to tell you how much I miss Leeds and England now that I have left, but the honest truth is that I don’t.  Maybe in a couple months, after my normal life goes back to seeming more wonted and mundane, I will be able to properly reflect on my time in Leeds and realize just how much I miss it.  But at the moment, I’m still riding the crest of an estatic wave and have yet to come down.  

Going into the study abroad experience, I really had no idea at all what to expect.  Actually, that’s a lie.  I did have expectations.  I had a lot of expectations.  I expected to finally have the opportunity to see the places I’ve always dreamed of seeing.  I expected to meet new people and gain a whole slew of new British friends.  I expected to come back with an entirely new perspective on life. It’s these types of anecdotes that are engrained into your mind when you sign up.  They’re the headlines at the top of the brochure.  For the most part, these changes are accurate, but I’m not sure they’re entirely truthful.  

The study abroad experience that everyone imagines sounds much like the events described above.  Everything is wonderful and life-changing and soaked in fun.  But the truth is, that there are a lot of parts of study abroad that aren’t so great. There are times when you hate being away from your friends and your family and your school so much that you aren’t really sure who you are without them.  There are times when you feel completed isolated and alone, too separated from everything to truly feel included.  Study abroad gives many the chance to travel, finally fulfilling adventures that had only existed in dreams.  I must confess that in the moment, these adventures rarely seem as spectacular as they should.  You’re often tired and cold, possibly even sick from weekend after weekend of travel, and stuck staring at a building that seemed much more impressive in your imagination.  And that sucks.  It really sucks.  But it’s also important to remember that everyone feels this way. 

Study abroad isn’t meant to be wonderful all the time.  It’s meant to challenge you and change you and make you look at the world in a different way. Leaving home is not easy, but it certainly makes you appreciate what you have.  Moving to England made me realize how much I love my school and where I live.  It made me appreciate the truly great people I have in my life and how utterly lost I would be without them.  Study abroad made me see America through a new lens, heightening my sense of patriotism in ways I never would have expected.  

I realize that talking about the good and the bad might make it seem like I didn’t like study abroad, but that is far from the truth.  I have loved every moment of this experience and am so greatful that I was given this opportunity and had the freedom and support behind me to take it.  There are moments when I look back at everything and it doesn’t seem real.  It went by so fast and so slow at the same time.  Right now, I’m just trying to figure out how to remember it all.  I don’t won’t to forget a single moment.  

In the spirit of remembering, I decided to channel my inner Nora Ephron and wrote up these two lists the night before I left Leeds.  Thanks for reading. 

What I will miss

  • Alyssa, Julie, Ivy and Amy
  • The freedom to travel
  • The lack of Homework
  • Free Yoga classes everyday
  • Sitting around the kitchen table talking and laughing long after we’ve finished eating.
  • Don’t Be A Tourist trips
  • My professors, all of whom gave me a knew perspective on learning and teaching
  • Wondering through the city by myself
  • Having a sink in my room
  • British Accents
  • British Fashion
  • Walking through the gates onto the Leeds campus 
  • Hot oreo milkshakes
  • Waking up and remembering I’m in a foreign country

What I won’t miss

  • Rain
  • Bodington Hall
  • Buses
  • Waiting for buses
  • People on buses
  • Not knowing anyone
  • Suggested reading lists
  • Hostels
  • Paying nearly double for everything
  • Uneven sidewalks 
  • Having to climb 5 flights of steps in every single building
  • British drivers
  • The exhaustion that comes along with travel
  • The food

Pressure

This probably goes along with my Study Abroad Advice list, but I thought it was important enough to deserve its own little post.  

Before you decide to jet off for a year in El Salvador, I want you to sit down and really think about what you are doing.  One of the major problems with study abroad is that students often feel pressured into taking a leap they may not be ready to take.  At my school and many others, there is a a lot of emphasis put on the importance of study abroad, and if you’re not careful, this well-meaning pressure can push you in directions that you aren’t fully ready for.  Many people (professors, friends, parents) will sell the study abroad experience as something that puts you a step above the rest.  You come back having seen the world and as a result, you have grown up, leaving the rest of your classmates behind.  Okay.  On some level this is certainly true, but study abroad is not the only life changing experience out there.  If you want to stay at the school you chose to come to in the first place then please do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with staying put, and I am tired of people pretending that there is.  Everyone is different, and everyone needs to make their own choices.  And let’s be real, study abroad is a pretty intimidating choice.  

Please don’t study abroad because you think it will look good on a resume or because your favorite professor wants you to or because all your friends are doing it.  Do it because you actually want to.  

Advice to Those Considering Study Abroad

1.  Be 100% sure.  Life changing experiences require careful thought and consideration. 

2. Prepare yourself financially.  Travel.  Food.  Accommodation.  These things cost money.  Make sure you have enough.  And remember that in Europe everything is nearly double the price.         

3. Do not over pack.  Just don’t do it.

4. Send postcards to anyone and everyone…no matter what the cost of international stamps.

5. It will get better.

6. Write.

7. Take tons and tons of pictures.

8. Keep in touch. 

9. Remember that you are in school.  Grades still matter even when you’re in a foreign country.

10. Be open to new experiences.  Cliche, I know, but it’s true. 

11. If you have to ask yourself whether or not this is a bad idea, it’s a bad idea.

12.  Book hostels and train tickets as early as possible.  

13.  Pack a jar of American peanut butter.  You’ll be greatful.  

14.  Make new friends.  Be social, even if it’s really hard.

15.  In the midst of amazing experiences, it’s easy to forget just how amazing they actually are.  Don’t.  Savor every moment.  

Chillin’ with the Leprechauns

I’m not going to lie and say that Dublin was my favorite of all the places I’ve been.  But while it wasn’t the prettiest or the oldest or the most impressive of cities, it certainly had a great spirit that I can only describe as irrevocably Irish.  Everyone I met was warm and welcoming and the city itself seemed to embody that same sense of character.  I got the sense that if I lived there, I may never want to leave.

"When I die Dublin will be written in my heart." -James Joyce  

The River Liffey 

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral

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James Joyce

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St. Stephen’s Green

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It’s wonderful that this place actually exists.

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Irish Stew = Major YUM

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Dublin Street

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For those planning a trip to Dublin, I would recommend also taking a day of your trip to tour through the Irish country side.  I really regret not planning a longer stay in Ireland.  I’ve heard the Cliffs of Moher are amazing.  I guess I’ll be hitting those up on my next trip.  

London Calling

I’ve been trying to get myself down to London for a good two months now. Three different trips had been planned and then canceled for various reasons. Not wanting to skip out on London, I finally just decided to venture on down there on my own.  For a lot of people, girls especially, independent travel is quite a scary concept.  I understand that.  We don’t want any real-life Taken incidents going on. That being said, I think independent travel (when done safely) can be a very freeing and extremely enjoyable experience.

Since I wasn’t going with anyone else, I decided a short trip would be the best.  As a general rule, traveling by yourself means you will be able to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. I arrived Friday evening and left late Saturday afternoon.  Just enough time to take in all the sights.  

When going from Leeds to London, I generally find it easier (and much cheaper!) to take the megabus.  The drive is around 5 hours and it drops you off at the Victoria Coach Station.  After arriving on Friday, I took a cab over to the West End to see a show.  I pre-booked my tickets online the day before and got really good seats for half-off.  If you ever find yourself in London, I definitely recommend seeing a West End play.  The tickets are much, much cheaper than Broadway and the quality is almost the same.  I saw Our Boys and thought it was great.  Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville in Harry Potter was also in it.  Reason enough to go.  

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For those who care, I stayed at the Astor Quest Hostel, which was right across the street from Hyde Park.  I’d say it was pretty mediocre, but can’t beat the location.  

Much of my Saturday was characterized by walking.  I started in Hyde Park and from there walked to the V&A Museum to check out the Hollywood Costume Exhibit.  It was excellent.  I also popped into the Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950 Exhibition which was smaller, but equally as interesting for the fashion inclined.  

My walking route

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From there I walked by Harrods and checked out all the Christmas windows. They were Disney Princess themed this year.  Cinderella was my favorite. 

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A short walk and I found myself a the Wellington Arch, which is the home to a variety of monuments and is right across the street from Buckingham Palace.  I think everyone feels obligated to go to Buckingham Palace while in London (and thankfully its centrally located), but honestly, do not make a special trip.  It is not at all exciting…or even pretty to look at.  

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Just down the road is West Minster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament.  In the tradition of almost every trip I’ve been on while abroad, West Minster was closed for tours the day I visited.  LAME.  So I just sort of wandered around the outside taking pictures and muttering bitterly to myself. 

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From there, I continued up Whitehall toward Trafalger square.  This road also goes past a couple of famous War memorials (the Cenotaph and the Women in WWI memorial) plus the entrance to Downing Street.  Trafalger Square was also lacking in the excitement arena.  Sometimes, if there are too many tourists it can really ruin the vibe and that was definitely true here.  For a moment, I didn’t even feel like I was in London anymore. 

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I quickly made a bypass for Charring Cross Road which eventually leads into Bloomsbury,  home of the one and only Virginia Woolf!!!!  Whom I absolutely adore.  This neighborhood was much more calm than the more central areas and had a very literary vibe (tons of bookshops everywhere).  It very much reminded me of the Upper West Side in New York.  While there, I also made a short visit to the British Museum, which I highly recommend.  I think you could literally spend a full day just wondering around that place. It was awesome.  

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The Tomb of Apollo at the British Museum

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Overall, I really enjoyed London and I think getting to experience it on my own made it  even more enjoyable.  I wasn’t weighed down by what other people wanted to do and that was a really nice change of pace.  For those up for a little adventure, I would highly encourage you to try it someday.