I’m back in my comfortable ocean-side apartment in sunny Santa Barbara, trying to get back in the groove of my regular routine. Go to class, go to the gym, make some lunch, do some homework. Hang out with friends, go to the beach, go to meetings, study for midterms. Things are slowly settling back into that cycle that I had going before my experience abroad, but there is one main difference: I’ve just come back from a 3-month adventure of a lifetime at just 20 years old, and I’m having a hard time moving past it.
Ever since I was in middle school, I felt the overwhelming desire to see the world. The very first bullet point on a long bucket list of overly idealistic experiences was to “travel to all seven continents”. Everyone that saw my list limited it to a naïve fantasy, but it remains steadfastly at the top. I made up my mind that I would study abroad in college in freshman year of high school, as soon as I found out it was a real thing to move to a different country for a semester while still enrolled in school and paying the same tuition. I had no idea where I wanted to go, but I had the feeling that I would have the time of my life.
The first time I visited London, it took my breath away. I feel like it fit me perfectly; the diversity of the people, the delectable food, the endless activities, the complicated history, the various cultural celebrations. I never ran out of things to do, which is precisely how I like to live my life. I had no idea that when I went the summer before 8th grade, I was merely falling in love with the surface of London. Fast forward 7 years, to my 20-year-old self hauling two industrial sized suitcases into the tube, determined to get to my program orientation without a cab, since I was a London resident now. I later realized that any sane person would have just called an Uber, but a frazzled and stubborn me was making her way through the summer heat with an actual physical map and no working phone.
Luckily, I made it and was able to settle into my new urban life after orientation quite nicely. I kept myself busy, going to all of the non-mandatory programs and events offered by my school, University College London. I walked and walked and walked, taking in as much of the city as I could see, before classes and responsibilities started. I just couldn’t sit still; I walked to Camden Market, I walked through my school campus, I walked to Oxford Circus, I walked to Primrose Hill. In the beginning, I didn’t use public transportation because I was trying to save money in the outrageously expensive city, but soon it became too cold for this California girl to bear, and all thoughts of walking went out the window. I can list all the places I visited in London, but I can’t really capture the feeling of staring around Picadilly Circus in the night, picking up a coffee from Pret and trying to match the brisk pace of all the intimidating and well-dressed people around me. I can’t convey the moment I first set eyes on the Thames, looked down on my home at the top of Skygarden, and watched The Goonies and Dirty Dancing on a rooftop in Peckham Rye. I don’t know how to tell someone the joy I felt finding that perfect jacket I’d been hunting for at a thrift store in Shoreditch, or the awe from strolling through my regal university campus and watching my peers work hard and have fun. I found a city where there is something for everyone, some little part of a concrete jungle where you can feel comfortable.
The independence that I gladly undertook during my time abroad has affected me more profoundly than I had ever anticipated. Beyond the usual things expected of any functional human, city life demanded that I be more self-aware and vigilant, and actually know my way around. I can now proudly say that I can find my way anywhere in London without google maps, and as a directionally challenged person, that is really something. For the first time, I was completely on my own, with no help easily around the corner. I had to protect myself, control my spending urges, and keep an open mind; and I got a projection of the person I would be after college. I believe I came back as someone much more interested in the world around me than I was before, someone who can walk into a room and start a conversation with a stranger, something I haven’t been able to do since I was a toddler.
For someone like me who needs constant stimulation, whether it be mental, physical, or cultural, London offered it to me on a silver platter. I never once felt like I was missing out on experiences in America, because I was having stimulating conversations, traveling to breathtaking new places, and meeting fascinating new people. I managed to feed myself in 5 different countries and not lose my passport, so all in all I would call this a successful experience to check off my bucket list.
London, I’ll be seeing you again.