Here I am. Heathrow Airport. Waiting…I just cannot believe this day has come already. It seems like an eternity ago that I was counting down the days until I was flying out of LAX. Somehow it also feels like yesterday.
I am so incredibly lucky to have been able to do this. The adventure of a lifetime. People say that the best thing they ever did in college was study abroad, and others say that their biggest regret was not doing it. I can attest to the former wholeheartedly, and I am happy that I decided to not end up like the latter. So I am telling you this: if you have the chance, DO IT. It is completely worth the time and the money. The memories you make will be priceless—like that MasterCard commercial.
Of course, not every minute is going to be exciting, but it’s not supposed to be. Yes, I chose to stay in and watch a movie or read some days. I always went for walks in the adorable park across from my building. I did not board public transit at all on occasion. Do I regret those days? Nope. Because there were others where I just hopped on the tube and a few stops later was standing in front of Buckingham Palace or Big Ben. Or I wandered around a museum for hours, taking in tidbits of history that I probably wouldn’t remember in a day or two.
My last few days were filled with laughter and good friends. And the 1975. Hopping from pub to pub, ordering two-for-ones for myself, and trying not to think about the fact that I was leaving in a matter of days. When I could narrow it down to number of hours, I could barely hold it together.
On Thursday, Jaci and I went to the 1975 concert at the O2, and it was one of the best nights—and very different from other concerts I have been to. Jaci had bought the tickets so long ago that when the day finally came, it almost caught me off guard. Surprise, you’re going to see a concert! And it was one of the most fun ones I have gone to. The jams were fabulous (obviously), the company was sweet, and the line for merch was non-existent. It was the perfect last adventure in London, and I got to do it with one of my favorite people.
The next two days were low-key as ever. Becca had left with her sister to meet their family in Amsterdam, so my roomie was gone. A sad goodbye, for sure, but I am glad I will see her back at Cal Poly. I was left with Ben, Ryan, and Jaci, but no complaints about that. We just got dinner on Friday. Then on Saturday, Ben and I wandered through Regents Park and walked up Primrose Hill. It was very foggy, so I couldn’t see more than twenty feet in front of us (therefore missing out on the great view that is usually there), but it was still a nice time. Practice for the hills of Cal Poly and good chats with Ben. We met Ryan and Jaci on Oxford Street for lunch, and I did some last-minute Christmas shopping. Going to the Shard was on our to do list until we realized the fog was not letting up; instead, we just wandered around our city one last time. We got drinks at a little pub, and then parted ways.
Saying goodbye to Jaci was not easy, and all the emotion I had pushed down about leaving seeped out. My goodbyes to Ryan and Ben (and Becca) were less emotional because I know I’ll see them again so soon. Jaci is planning on visiting, but it won’t be for another few months. So I was left failing to hold in tears on the tube. A full on sob fest ensued as soon as I was home. And to be honest, another one might occur momentarily in the middle of the airport.
I have learned so many things in this city, this country, and this continent. I have grown up in ways I didn’t know I could. I am strong and independent and happy. If you had told me ten years ago that I would feel this kind of bliss (yes, bliss) and have done all these crazy things, I would have said, “Honey, I’m not even going to see my eighteenth birthday, so you are certifiably insane.” And yet, here I am…
People are going to ask me so many questions when I get back: what my favorite part was, what I did and didn’t like, what my favorite city was, what the weirdest thing I saw was, did I have fun (a personal favorite), and so on. And I will answer all these questions the best I can, and maybe my answers will change from day to day. But to combat some of these, I have complied a list of a few things I learned in my time here.
Things I Learned Abroad
New places can be scary—but it’s the good kind.
Honestly, being in a whole new city where you know zero people is not easy, and no matter how confident I was in myself and my living-on-my-own capabilities, I was still terrified. What if I didn’t have fun? What if I hated it? What if the people were weird? So many questions and not many answers. But you just have to take that leap of faith and make the best of every situation. The unknown can turn out to be a fantastic place. I mean, you could get stranded in a foreign country and have no place to live, and it could still turn out to be your favorite destination (looking at you, Amsterdam).
You’re going to get lost.
Especially if you don’t have data and cannot map yourself home. In the rain. And you don’t recognize where you are. Even if you do know where you are and you do have data, it is still completely possible to get lost. It’s not always a bad thing, though. You could stumble upon something great.
Go everywhere that you can.
It sounds pretty self-explanatory, but it is true. Go everywhere. I didn’t plan on going to Amsterdam, but I did it, and I loved it. Dublin was on my list from the beginning, and so was Scotland. I wanted to visit Mads in Copenhagen, but I wasn’t sure if it would happen. Lucky for me, it did. Of course, I did not get to go to Iceland with my friends, or Paris or Vienna or Milan, but it is an excise to come back. I used my time wisely, but that didn’t mean I had enough of it (or money). But go on as many adventures as you possibly can, even if they are short train rides to a city nearby. When else can you say you took an absolutely spontaneous trip to Sweden?
It’s worth it to keep all the weird trinkets you acquire: ticket stubs, business cards, punch cards, etc.
So you can put them in your journal or in a scrapbook or on your wall. Even keep them in a box. But when you look at them, you will be reminded of the good times you had. You may never need a punch card to a tiny tea shop in Brighton, but you will always remember the Panda-licious Licorice tea you drank there.
Anxiety is going to try and get to you—and you will let it.
Okay, so maybe this doesn’t happen to everyone, but it sure caught me off-guard sometimes. Some days, all I could do was stay inside and ignore the world around me—I couldn’t unleash the beast in front of the world. Yes, Copenhagen was rough, and I haven’t seen myself like that in a while. That night was not easy, and I hate that I let myself fall that far that fast. It was bound to happen, though, and sometimes you can’t fight it. So if you have anxiety, it is okay to let it get to you, just don’t let it control you. You are better than it.
You will always need a deck of cards.
Just trust me on this.
It’s okay if you make friends from your home university because it will still expand your horizons.
Becca, Ben, Ryan, Luke, Stan, Izzy. All people in my program that also go to Cal Poly. How many of them did I know before? Zero. We all run in different circles, so our paths never crossed, but somehow we ended up here together. And somehow, a few of them are my best friends. I will be forever grateful for squad (Jaci, Kevin, and Mackenzie included, of course). And even though all of these people are from America (and California, for the most part), I don’t feel that I have missed out on any experiences at all.
Call your family.
I did not do this much (call it my extreme lack of homesickness). Becca did much more than I did. And Jaci called and Snapchatted her mom all the time. Ryan’s family came and visited. I should have called my family more often. There is nothing I can do about that now, but I cannot stress enough that if you ever feel homesick, one phone call can make a world of difference.
Smile at every dog you see.
This one doesn’t sound important, but it is.
Honestly, I am still reeling from the last three months. I am listening to carolers in the airport and seeing people waiting to catch their flights to who-knows-where, and I still cannot believe I did all this. I feel like I will wake up from my nap on the plane (which I am praying will actually happen) and it will December of last year, when studying abroad was just a romantic thought planted in my mind.
Just over an hour until my flight home…by the time you see this I will be on a plane—or I will be home in Los Angeles! That is a wild thought…
Nope, I am not crying in the middle of Heathrow. No, no, no. There is just something in my eye. I am extremely sad to be leaving this wonderful city I have called home for three months. All the memories and friends I have made will stay with me forever, and no experience will be quite like this one. I am wildly lucky and blessed to have been able to do this.
To the people I have spent far too much time with:
Becca, thank you for putting up with living with me all this time. You are wonderful and I love you.
Jaci, you are a gem in my life and an incredible human. Love you mucho, my dear.
Ryan, thank you for always keeping me laughing and for being an absolute champ in Amsterdam.
Ben, my favorite conversations were with you and I am so happy you came into my life.
And major shout out to Amy for continuing to be my favorite adventuring buddy. You’re a fav, forever.
And wow, if keep writing and thinking about this I am going to be sobbing and people will start staring. I am going to miss London and all the memories I have made. I am a whole new person because of this city.
Too much love (and tears), Ash ❤