As soon as I touched down at Heathrow Airport on the outskirts of London, I had that moment of awe — I did it. I made it to England.
It looked exactly like everywhere else.
Even though it had an un-miraculous appearance, the sensation of knowing where I was and what I only just began to embark on was stuttering. Thousands of possible adventures were before me and all I had to do was begin. As Bilbo from the Shire best put it: “I’m going on an adventure!”
That first day in London was pretty awful. I arrived in terminal two, “The Queen’s Terminal,” where I would go through border control and enter the country. The long hours of the flight were beginning to catch up to me, and the anxiety I felt when clutching all of my visa papers to my chest warred with each other in a some sort of hectic tornadic emotional mess. I was exhausted. I was sweaty. My breath reeked. My pits were unmentionable. The only thing that kept me going was the prospect of a bed I knew existed somewhere in Holborn.
Thankfully, the man at border control wanted to be there even less than I did as he let me through after a quick glance of my paperwork. My 5’ 6” stature, short hair, nerdy glasses look didn’t seem all too threatening to him, of which I’m very thankful.
I got through and caught up with my travel companions, my mom and two aunts who decided to use me to get to England, and we set off to find our luggage and toilets (that’s what they call the restrooms there: “toilets”). Someone had put all of our stuff aside, because apparently we were taking too long to get through their security system and another flight’s luggage was already zipping past on the conveyor belt. This I didn’t care for much, but I did feel a little pity for whomever had to pick up my suitcase. Due to my living in London for the next four months, I had quite a bit of crap packed into my bag. The thought of how much that bag weighed still makes my back and arms ache.
At this point in time, we had found a seat on a bench in the middle of baggage claim in order to find out the best way to our hotel. One fact that I am very proud of myself is that I primarily exist on the Internet’s social media platforms, especially Tumblr. Because of this, I knew of the London underground system, lovingly referred to as “The Tube”. This was one thing about London I was super excited to experience. My entire life had been spent in Columbus, Ohio, and it’s not known for the astounding public transportation system. In hindsight, if I had known TLF (Transport for London) would have taken all of my money on a weekly basis to get from where I lived to class, I would have started out less enthusiastic.
I brought this up to my fellowship and they seemed pretty okay with riding the tube to get to our hotel, so we took the elevator down. We bought our oyster cards with pounds loaded up, and proceeded to the platform where we waited until the loud roar of the train exploded out the mouth of the underground. This first experience of riding the Piccadilly line to Holborn station is probably one of the most memorable. The ride from Heathrow to central London takes around an hour to complete, as long as there are no delays.
Even though there weren’t any, that hour long train line was brutal — we were all progressively falling asleep in the faded 90s pattern tube seats, silently fighting to keep our eyes open in order to enjoy the scenery of passing suburbias. Miles of construction mixed in with old London homes zipped by as I inched closer and closer into the heart of the sprawling city.
Despite everything happening all at once, I was excited. Ecstatic. Elated. Absolutely overjoyed to finally be in England. As I sat on that train heading to a place I had always dreamed of visiting, I had no idea just how much this adventure would truly change my life. Because of London, and Wittenberg, I was able to meet so many wildly brilliant people whom I would never have had the pleasure if I otherwise hadn’t gone. I went on so many adventures within this grand adventure, including Paris, Zagreb, Amsterdam, and the entirety of the United Kingdom, as well as the Republic of Ireland.
When I wasn’t traveling all over Europe, I was in some incredible classes. Not only did I learn so much every single day about the culture of England, but I took classes in Shakespeare where I got to attend a play at the Globe Theatre. I also enrolled in the courses “Theatre in London”, “Playwriting”, “Media and UK Politics”, and “Western Art and the Convergence of Technique and Philosophy” (a long title for an art history and drawing class).
These courses were highly interesting, not only because the subject matter and the way the professors took us all over London and the rest of the UK for our practical application of learning, but because the professors themselves had the most insane backgrounds. My playwriting professor, Marina Caldarone, is a woman who chooses the talent from all different kinds of acting schools around England, and taught Kit Harington a.k.a. Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones”. My art history professor, Lucinda Hawksley is a direct descendant of Charles Dickens, and gets so embarrassed when we bring him up as her great-whatever grandfather. My drawing professor, Andy, is a practicing artist in London and has had his own galleries. My “Theatre in London” professor, Collin, is an eccentric Scottish man from Glasgow whom we could barely understand half the time, yet knew he was wildly brilliant.
Each and every single person employed by the IES Study Abroad Program brought a vibrancy every single day we had class that made learning even more spectacular than it already is. I would wake up every single day excited for what my classes would have in store for me, and in return I learned so much from weekly theatre visits to watch another show, or the day we went to parliament to see exactly how the House of Lords and the House of Commons worked.
Every day was a new adventure, and now that I have the ability to look back on everything I did, I’m almost in shock that it happened so fast. Four months seems like a long time to be away from everything familiar and comforting, but to say that I’m glad I did it is an understatement. London has my heart, and I look forward to the day I get to return and experience another hectic first day as my plane touches down at Heathrow Airport.