Week One in London
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Saying goodbye was difficult. I'll start off with that simple statement. I've loved San Francisco and the Bay Area ever since visiting my sister there for the first time, and I would say that it's a place that really feels like home. My sister, a great job, my partner, new friends, a city that I've fallen in love with—saying a temporary goodbye to all of these was harder than I had even anticipated, and I didn't think it was going to be easy. It's incredibly exhilarating and terrifying to pack all of your material belongings into a few suitcases and head off into something completely unknown, leaving half of your heart behind.
This first week actually being in London for the first time has been a mélange of emotions and experiences. The journey here was lengthy but went smoothly, and my preparation for and anticipation of the travel details distracted me from being too upset at the time of my actual departure, temporarily numbing some of that distress. After a 2-hour flight, a nine-hour layover, a ten and half-hour flight, immigration, customs, baggage claim, and 2-hour taxi ride, touching down in Gatwick really did feel like the realization of a life-long dream. As the taxi drove through fields and suburbs, up through south London and across the Thames, it finally started to sink in that this is real, that it's actually happening. This adventure has been long-awaited, as I was accepted to my master's program senior year of college and I deferred, so I've been anticipating this experience for about a year and a half. Although it sounds trite, England has always been somewhere that I've wanted to live, and the location was part of why I applied to this specific program. I would say, 'England has always called to me', but that risks sounding like a pulp romance novel opening line, so I will refrain. But this place has such rich history that is still so present in the now, with the buildings and the city's structure, that you feel a little more connected to the past than you do in an American city. Granted, a lot of that history is not noble or to be much admired (I mean, I go to a school called Imperial College London, it's a little touchy), but there's an ancient feeling about this country. Something mysterious and nuanced that begs to be explored and untangled.
While I was growing up, my sister and my mom and I would watch BBC period dramas and romances over and over—sometimes Dad would join us too, with some witty commentary on the floofy neckties. Reading books about and set in England, consuming approximately a metric tonne of British TV and films and plays, going through a Beatlemania stage—all of these contributed to my budding anglophilia during my developing years. My best childhood friend was born in Yorkshire and her family, with whom I spent a great deal of time growing up, was another pervasive dose of British culture in my life. When I was very young my family lived in France and Germany for six years as part of my dad's military service, and those experiences have always made me feel connected to Europe and what it has to offer. I've been waiting my whole life to come back and experience it as an adult. I also think that time in Germany as a young child influenced a lot of my preference and personality—I much prefer cloudy, cool, rainy days to sunny ones and throughout this past year in California I've been yearning for rain and clouds. I've been ready for some English weather. London reminds me so much of my childhood, it feels like I'm coming back to somewhere familiar even though I've never been here before.
I'm sharing a flat with a close friend, and I don't know what I would do without her. Big cities can be isolating, and having someone so lovely to come home to and to help me adjust has been invaluable (Emily, thank you for your care and love and friendship!). Our flat is a small two bedroom in West Hampstead, and is absolutely what I pictured grown-up life being when I was a child. It's hard to put into words, but in middle school and high school I think many of us daydream and plan what our lives are going to look and feel like when we are adults. I just never really imagined it would actually come true: living in a small, bright London apartment above a shop, with beautiful big windows and my own small room, teeny narrow stairs and a crooked floor. It sounds like something out of novel, and it's making me feel like I'm doing a pretty okay job of being the heroine in the story of my own life.
We are slowly making it feel homey, adding personal touches and getting settled. I'm planning on making a video soon giving a little tour of the apartment once we have everything all decorated and friendly. It's exactly the adventure I've always pictured and dreamed about, and hearing everybody on the street actually speak in the accents I've been training my ear to decipher through movies is a very strange feeling. The look and sound of everything is something I've only been exposed to through media, so it does feel a little bit like actually being in a movie. That's not to say it's been perfectly easy to adjust. I've tried to keep myself busy with walking everywhere, taking pictures and notes, preparing for the start of my program next week and puttering around the flat, but it does sometimes feel like the moment I stop and stay still for a bit, all the feelings about leaving California and all the people that I love and miss come crashing down and form a heavy ball in my chest. There will always be moments with a huge change like this when you feel like you've made the wrong decision, that the pain and anxiety of leaving isn't worth it, or 'why can't I have BOTH godda**it!'. I miss my partner, I miss my parents, I miss my sister, I miss having a paycheck.
But somehow, even with all that, I do still feel like it was the right decision, like this is the opportunity of a lifetime and I would be stupid to let it pass by. Human brains are funny like that, that we can feel all those clashing things at the same time, feeling pulled in too many directions.
But enough blathering about my feelings. What did I do? In this first week I have: figured out what money is worth how much (after much hurried rummaging through my change purse and muttering 'sorry, sorry' to impatient shopkeepers while peering at the backs of coins), definitely almost gotten run over due to confusion about traffic patterns, and walked a total of about 20 miles. Because my flatmate's incredibly kind and generous parents were in town for my first week I've seen three shows already (London theatre is utterly fantastic): The Entertainer, starring Kenneth Branagh, Chekhov's Platonov at The National Theatre, and Noel Coward's Home Chat at the Finborough.
We ate at the highest 24-hour restaurant in London, with incredible 360 degree views all the way to the countryside outside of the city. I've walked along the Strand, familiarized myself pretty well with the tube map (I don't even need to use Google maps any more!), and visited school. I walked through Hyde park, all up and down Oxford Street while dipping in and out of palatial department stores, and through South Kensington (my school's neighborhood). I've accidentally happened upon Abbey Road Studios and many other beautiful and quirky little alleys and parks and restaurants and cafés. I'm trying to photo-document everything as best I can while also being present in the moment, so take a look at the reel below to get a better mental picture of the jaunts I just described.
The view from the Duck and Waffle, located on the 40th floor. We were looking actually DOWN on the Gherkin, so that gave me some perspective on building height...
I stopped by school for some paperwork finalization and familiarized myself with campus (now I know where to go for my first class on Monday!)
Pictured above: Dinner one night on the fantastically flamboyant and bustling Carnaby Street, full of little courtyards like this bristling with shops and delicious eateries; A pharmacy whose name my family will enjoy; A hilarious apartment identifier; Labyrinthine streets with funny names
I'm having fun playing with fashion here too, and I'm excited to be a little more bold in my every day clothing choices now that I'm a student again and not in the workplace!
So there you have it. A little bit of cerebral angst-ing about change and a little bit of concrete documentation of my activities! This first week has been exciting, overwhelming, joyous, sad, anxious, and...did I say exciting? Really, really exciting. I love it here. I miss home. Feeling both those things at once is confusing and strange, although it's certainly not the first time I've felt this way. Here's to next week, when school begins and the business of being a master's student starts in earnest!