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London calling: making the most of the trip

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View of Bay and little castle on the side

View of the Bay (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Duff | The DePaulia)

On Oct. 31, I found myself sitting atop a castle with my feet dangling over the edge, taking in a spectacular view of the sun setting over a bay on the southern coast of Ireland. Never in my life could I have imagined that I would have ended up there. It felt so surreal.

Studying abroad is all about saying yes, and accepting opportunities that you’ll never get the chance to experience again. A few weeks ago when I was asked to join nine friends on a trip to Ireland where we would rent a secluded castle to stay in for Halloween weekend — a trip which I was given very few details about — I said yes without hesitation. The moment I heard “castle,” I was in. It ended up being the most interesting experience of my life.

Just before I departed for Cork, Ireland, I started to second guess going on the trip, not because I wasn’t excited about going, but because I was terrified that I wouldn’t make it back alive. Our plans sounded like something straight out of  a horror movie, especially considering that a young boy had died in a tunnel beneath the castle a long time ago. Luckily, nothing particularly spooky happened and it turned out to be an amazing weekend.

While we spent most of our time playing cards, goofing around in our Halloween costumes and dancing in our cozy seaside castle, we also enjoyed exploring the Irish countryside. Our castle was surrounded by fields that fenced in cows, donkeys and sheep, and was a short walk away from a beautiful stone beach.

Following my return to London, I had a very theatrical week. I spent two consecutive days visiting grand theaters in the West End theater district seeing the shows “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Our study abroad program got us the tickets, so I was surprised to have been seated in the front row of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Despite a few moments of awkward eye contact with the members of the pit orchestra seated directly below me, it was absolutely incredible. After watching the actors in those two shows put on such impressive performances, I started to feel very untalented. I’m going to have to wait until I can boost my self esteem back up again before I return to the theater.

Nov. 5 was a British holiday called Bonfire Night. On that day in 1605,  Guy Fawkes was arrested for his involvement in a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament to assassinate King James I. This holiday is a day of thanksgiving for the arrest of Guy Fawkes and his plot’s failure. On the 5th of November and throughout that weekend, Bonfire Night celebrations took over the city of London. Fireworks were lit and bonfires were burned in honor of this triumph.

It was so cool to be in London during these celebrations. Learning about English traditions is one of the great parts about getting to live in a foreign country rather than just visiting. Some friends and I picked one Bonfire Night festival out of many to attend. The festival featured fireworks that were coordinated to go along with popular songs from Disney movies. I’m not sure how Disney connects to the capture of Guy Fawkes, but I appreciated the creative attempt. We could barely hear the music over the sound of the fireworks, so that was a little disappointing, but the fireworks were really amazing.

The event reminded me exactly of the Fourth of July festival in my home town, complete with carnival food stands and rides that spin you around until you’re sick. Every so often I am surprised to encounter things that remind me so much of American culture, and I have to remind myself how far away from home I really am.

As much as I’ve become accustomed to English culture, I still have a lot of fun visiting as many tourist destinations as I can. I recently got to ride on the London Eye, and was able to plan a quick trip to see Stonehenge and the Roman Baths.

I am now more than half way through my study abroad trip, which is hard to believe. I feel like I’m trapped in a weird dimension where time moves unbearably slow and extremely fast at the same time. I’ve started to reflect on my time here so that I can finish my trip strong.

Most moments while studying in London have be absolutely magical and perfect, like every time I see Big Ben or anything related to Harry Potter. Other moments were a little underwhelming, for example when I went to see Abbey Road, where the Beatles were famously photographed crossing the street. That was really just a regular crosswalk, and taking the classic Abbey Road picture involved almost getting hit by cars with impatient drivers.

As sad as it will be when I have to return to the United States, I also can’t wait to see my friends and family who I’ve been separated from by several time zones and an ocean for so long. As much as I’ve missed them, every moment of my study abroad trip has been worth it.  The friends I’ve made and experiences I’ve had have been truly incredible, and I would encourage anyone who is considering studying abroad to accept the opportunity and go.

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London calling: making the most of the trip