I’m about three and a half weeks into my study abroad trip, and the “honeymoon phase” is over. While I’m still absolutely thrilled to be here, I now realize that I’m not living in a sparkling, fairytale city, but in a gigantic metropolis, where life happens as normal and people talk weird.
I’m no longer experiencing the buzz of excitement that I felt when I first arrived, but that in itself is exciting. I feel like I’m becoming a part of a place that I had only dreamed of visiting. I’ve started to settle into activities that would be a part of my normal routine, like getting drinks with friends or doing homework on campus.
Now that my friends back at DePaul are taking their midterms, my classes have finally started. I was warned to arrive for class early, because to British people, early is on time and on time is late. Considering this advice, I was surprised when my classes were much less organized and more laid back than I expected. In one of my classes, my professor started things off by handing out a syllabus and saying “Alright you all can take some time, let’s meet back up in half an hour,” which left me confused about why we already needed a break after only being handed a sheet of paper.
Even though they’re a little different, I really like my classes so far. I’m especially excited about my Modern Art in London class, where we get to attend a different art museum every week. I love art museums, so that’s the kind of thing I would be doing in my free time anyways. Our class has already gone to the Tate Modern museum where we saw paintings by Andy Warhol, Georges Braque, Roy Lichtenstein and a Pablo Picasso sculpture. I’ve studied these works of art in books for years, so I was amazed to see them in person.
On my very first day of classes, I walked in, sat down, and before I even said a word, another classmate bee-lined to me and asked “Are you an American?” Apparently my American Eagle jeans and Eddie Bauer backpack gave it away. Still, I was surprised. I was really starting to feel like I was fitting in. I’ve taught myself to call trash cans ‘bins’ and elevators ‘lifts,’ and I no longer walk down the cobblestone streets with my eyes glued to a map. I’ve even started participating in traditional English activities, like going to afternoon tea. If that doesn’t make me a local, I don’t know what would.
Considering my indifference to tea, and socioeconomic status, I’ve attended far more tea parties than one might expect. The most successful of which was a tea party I hosted in 2011, in celebration of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. My guests and I stayed up all night to watch the live ceremony while wearing tiaras, drinking over-sugared tea out of dusty tea cups and eating traditional English crumpets, which I made myself. As extravagant as that was, it was nothing compared to a traditional English afternoon tea.
A few friends and I enjoyed an afternoon in a picturesque hotel restaurant with intricately folded cloth napkins and waiters who pulled out our chairs for us. We were served individual pots of tea, along with biscuits, finger sandwiches and bite sized desserts on a three-tiered tray. I found myself replaying scenes from “The Princess Diaries” in my head, trying to follow Queen Clarise’s instructions for how to behave like a princess. Our usual gossip didn’t seem appropriate, so I casually struck up a conversation about the Queen’s hats, inappropriate hem lengths and the possibility of a courtship with a gentleman caller.
Every weekend, I’ve been trying to plan activities like that to check off my long list of things I want to do and see while I’m here. This week, I saw the Tower Bridge, visited Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station and admired Buckingham Palace. I also took a day trip to the Windsor Castle where I toured ornately decorated rooms and took selfies in golden, medieval mirrors.
I’ve been starting to wonder how possible it will be for me to do everything I want to while I’m here. Three months really isn’t very long, and my ideas are a lot grander than my wallet will allow. I had planned on following a budget for this trip, but ever since I got here I’ve been avoiding thinking about money. I realize how unwise this is, but the rapidly declining total in my bank account terrifies me. Today, I mustered up the courage to log into my bank account and was surprised to find that I’m actually on budget. It may not be a budget that allows me to jet off to Iceland, Morocco and Greece every week, but I will still be able to see some amazing things.
I have a trip planned to Ireland this weekend, one to Wales the following weekend and a trip to Amsterdam in November. But for now, I’m happily falling asleep in London to the sound of rain hitting my window, just as I imagined I would be.