Note: I wrote this article over the course of a couple of weeks! Stuff was crazy, you’ll see why. The days jump around a bit, so I am sorry if that is confusing, but I believe it reads kind of like the experience of living it. Thanks!
Well, I made it through the first three days without crying for real.
I wrote that sentence after a great day of hanging out with other students and walking around Central London in the picturesque rain. I remarked that I’d never liked cities before, but it might be because I grew up in Los Angeles, where walking anywhere is much harder than it is here. Even though we are only in London for about three weeks, I felt like I had found a place here. The night before, some students and I had visited Buckingham Palace to see the flowers that had been left outside of the gates to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II. The first three days here in the UK have been a whirlwind of doing. I had been afraid of so many things before I left, but in the moment, none of that mattered. It was so easy to leave my room and explore all day, and anticipate everything fully when I went to sleep. I tried some Mexican food, which didn’t quite compare to what I was used to, and then went back to my accommodations. It was at that point, with my roommate out, alone for the first time since I had left home, that everything overwhelmed me. I had a good homesick cry, worried about everything that I had left behind and the uncertainty of what I was going to do for the next couple months. After that, I went to sleep, ready to embrace a country that symbolised a new chapter in my life.
I woke up with a fever and isolated for the day. The next day, I tested positive for COVID-19. I am currently writing this on day 2 of my isolation, but I’ve been inside for four days, my only contact with the outside world being the window that looks out onto a roof and another block of apartments. While outside the UK is crowning a controversial new King, arranging the funeral of the longest reigning monarch in English history, and London shifting and coming to terms with this sudden change, I have been stuck inside, trying to recover so I can hopefully attend at least one of my tutorial classes in person. While intellectually, I understand that getting COVID is not my fault, it is still hard not to beat myself up about it. I took care to wear my mask, to wash my hands, to follow even stricter guidelines I had set for myself than the CDC, and still I got sick. All I have to do now is wait it out.
I am returning to this article after I have completed my isolation. I’m not sick anymore, but the sickness did seriously impact my schedule. I missed class, events, and waiting 24 hours in the queue to see the Queen. I have been trying to make up for the time that I lost during those nine days I was inside, and it is hard. It is hard to get out of bed, hard to walk around the city for hours in uncomfortable shoes, hard to find places to explore on my own. Thinking about how much time I wasted on my phone when I could’ve been exploring the city is almost as overwhelming as my initial homesickness. When I arrived, I couldn’t do enough because I was sick. Now, I am scared that I am not doing enough to make up for lost time. This study abroad experience is supposed to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Why can’t I just suck it up and make the most of it?
My anxiety about wasting my time is caused by COVID but not unique to the experience of having it. Somehow, being worried about trying to make lasting memories that will somehow define the rest of my life actually makes it harder to enjoy things in the moment. I don’t want to pretend I have a solution to this, but, in the days since I've been out of quarantine, here are some things I have tried.
I took the tube to a stop I had never visited before. It was cool to see new things from the window of the train, and I didn’t leave the station, so it didn’t cost me much.
I went to watch a movie in a theatre on a whim. I got to visit a new area of London as it was the only place showing a horror movie at 2:45 p.m. on a Tuesday. The movie was good, so that was a plus.
I watched a boat go through the Camden Locks and googled how locks work. I would never have obtained that information otherwise.
I went to a play! It was cheap with student tickets, and it was a good time. Got to see the Thames at night.
I took the National Rail out to Sevenoaks and checked out Knole House through the National Trust. I got to see people restoring furniture and some very brave deer.
I sat in St. James Park and watched people feed the ducks.
Every time I go back to the Stay Club after class or for the day, I still feel the underlying worry of not making the most of it. However, the best experiences I’ve had in the city so far have come because I have been respectful of my needs and fears and taken opportunities that, while they don’t sound as grand as the opportunities of students on TikTok, have been pretty fulfilling to me. Just go with the flow, I guess? Being afraid is okay. Things happen. It’s okay to cry. I suppose it’s hard to make the most of it because "making" implies that I have a responsibility to manufacture the best experiences. However, just deciding to do things when they are in front of me has been the most fun I’ve had. So I guess I should amend that statement to "go with it". See where that takes me.
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I’m a third year student at the University of Redlands, pursuing an alternative education through the Johnston Centre of Integrative Studies, and I am studying abroad at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. This essentially means that I design my own major, and instead of grades, I get written evaluations. I study History, Film, Literature, and Art. I’m deeply involved in the community, which means I love going to meetings and deciding policy! I love to sew costumes and clothes and to watch old movies with friends.