There is something indescribably massive about life in London.
London is multifaceted in a way that I can’t even begin to explain. The city itself is an enormous labyrinth of streets, Tube lines, and bus routes. It’s also massive in a cultural sense: home to millions of people, dozens of universities, and hundreds of languages. Greater London encompasses quaint Greenwich and bustling King’s Cross. It spans the upscale shops on the West End and the impoverished neighborhood in East London where I go for my service-learning placement.
The pace of life here is also faster than I’ve experienced anywhere else— and I go to college in Washington, DC! Tube trains pull into the stations at breakneck speed. People rushing around on city streets won’t apologize when they bump into you. Those famous double-decker buses careen around corners with little regard for other cars. Even cyclists refuse to break for pedestrians. Life in London is exhausting. It’s expansive. It’s exhilarating.
And then there was the orientation week schedule, which was also extensive and fast-paced. There were safety orientations, housing orientations, field trip orientations, academic orientations, and program orientations. There were too-short lunch breaks and trips to the orientation site and back. There were nice (brief) pauses in this week as well, including a party at a bar for us to meet each other and the program staff and a whirlwind bus tour to all the sights of the city. The week was capped off by a trip an hour outside of the city center to visit Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII’s sprawling castle. Then my first two weeks of classes also flew by in the blink of an eye.
Life in London is overwhelming.
All I can think now, as I stare out over the city lights twinkling in the rain, is that this city could swallow me whole and not even notice.
At the end of each day, I return to my dorm with no almost desire to head back out again. It’s not that I don’t love London— if it was a person I would marry it— but the city that sprawls outside the window above my bed never fails to make me feel small and a bit disoriented. I still need time to decompress and readjust.
My advice to anyone who is feeling that way that I am at this point in the semester is to never stop going back out into the city. Take care of yourself, of course, and know your limits. When you need a break, read a book in your room or take a nap. Have a cup of tea.
And then take on the city again. Go out with your friends to restaurants, concerts and museums. Sign up for field trips and venture outside of your flat. The best moments I have had since arriving in London have been spontaneous: attending an Evensong service at Westminster Abbey, going to watch a soccer game at a pub, and exploring the shops and observatory at Greenwich on an IES Abroad field trip.
It’s so easy, especially on the dreary days or after you get embarrassingly lost in the city (which has definitely never happened to me…), to curl up under your blankets and never come out. But I can’t stay under the covers for long. I want to make the most of my time abroad, and now I have a new goal: I want to get to the point where walking down the streets of this breathless, breathtaking, and mind-numbingly massive city feels like a walk through my hometown. I want to feel comfortable and in control of my life here. I want to feel at home in the rhythms of this city.
These things can only happen if I stay the course, leave my bed, and acquaint myself with my new home.
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<p>Hi, I’m Angela! I’m a junior at American University, where I’m majoring in International Studies and minoring in Public Health. I enjoy drinking hot chocolate, reading good books, and singing along to *every* song on the Hamilton soundtrack. I grew up in the Rust Belt, live in DC, and can’t wait to study healthcare and experience life in London. I’m not throwing away my shot!</p>