My Travel Journal #1
by Lucas Humphrey
Hello GWUOHS! In the last blog, I shared a travel tip for the upcoming Europe trip, and it got me thinking about my own experience studying abroad. In the summer of 2006, I made a very similar trek around the UK for a study abroad trip, and I recorded my experience in a journal. In this blog, I wanted to share a few parts of this journal to give you an idea of what the experience is like if you’ve never had the opportunity to visit the UK. Read on…
Studying abroad is an educational, cultural, and personal experience that cannot be replicated anywhere in one’s home country. It is an opportunity that no one should forego. In the summer of 2006, I chose to study abroad in London. As English major, a majority of what I read and learn about has some connection to this city. However, most of what I know about the English language is based not on what I learn in classes, but what I have been exposed to on a daily basis. Because I have resided in the southeastern United States for my entire life, that knowledge is relatively miniscule in the context of everything there is to know about English. Experiencing five weeks in England allowed me to immerse myself in the culture and history that surrounds the origins of the language, as well as the origins of American culture. My goal was to understand how English and American cultures have influenced each other, and to gain an appreciation for the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between life in the United States and in England.
Upon first setting foot onto English territory in Gatwick Airport at 9 AM on June 22, 2006, I noticed mostly little things that seemed quirky to me then—the smaller vehicles, phrases such as “mind your head,” and, of course, the accents—all of which would lose their novelty and seem normal to me by the end of the trip. Twenty-five program participants were on this flight, out of about a hundred and fifteen total. As we loaded onto our bus, we all had similar first impressions. Gatwick, however, is not London (it took almost two hours to get to our final destination from there), and our introduction to England was Gatwick’s rural landscape. Since I had stepped off of the plane and onto English land, every little thing excited me. I remember looking out of the bus window at some grazing sheep, a simple sight that thrilled someone whose only venture outside of the eastern U.S. was on a cruise ship.
As the bus driver approached the city, the scenery became progressively less rural and my anticipation grew. However, after an eight-hour flight and a five-hour time change, jet lag was beginning to get the best of me. I tried my best to stay awake. Upon arrival at our accommodation at University of Westminster, we were finally able to step off our bus and onto London pavement. Little did I know at the time that it would be until 8 PM before I would have a room, because of over-booking and problems with locks. When my room situation was finally sorted out, I ended up on what was supposed to be a girls’ floor. Thankfully, none of the girls minded, and it turned out to be for the best. Through living on the fifteenth floor, I met almost all of my London friends. In between hours of waiting on the locksmith that first evening, I went on a walk around the city with a few other students I had met.
Our campus was right across from Madame Tussauds on Marylebone Road. (Many students chose to visit the popular wax museum, but I never did, as it seemed too pricey.) We were fortunate to have a tube stop right across the street as well. Our Oyster cards, which the program provided us, gave us unlimited rides on the Underground (zones one and two) for the five weeks. London’s transportation system is something the city should really be proud of, as it’s probably the best in the world. The tube usually allowed us to get from place to place very quickly and easily. Tesco—which is essentially the British version of Wal-Mart—was nearby, and it became a constant destination for food and other necessities. We were given a weekly £20 Tesco gift card, as the university dining hall closed a week after our arrival. The gift cards worked well. A group of us decided to put our gift cards together and use them at one of the bigger Tesco stores, which was a few stops from our Baker Street stop, at King’s Cross. The girls agreed to cook (each floor in our dorm had a kitchen and eating area), which resulted in us eating a lot of Southern meals. Our Fourth of July meal was the most memorable, complete with hot dogs, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, and an American flag cake. Meals were rarely a problem in the dorm, as there were always leftovers. The dorm, which was treated more like a hostel in the summer months, employed maids to clean the kitchen and make the beds. For laundry, there were several washing machines and dryers in the basement. The dorm was far from luxurious, however, as it was an old building in dire need of renovation. The elevators were constantly broken, and on a couple of occasions, some in the group had to walk nearly twenty flights of stairs to reach their room. However, the location of the campus made the cold showers in tiny stalls completely worth it. We could be nearly anywhere in London worthy of note in a matter of twenty minutes.
To be continued…