After months of preparation, shopping, and stress, I finally landed in London on Tuesday! It was a relief to have officially arrived in the place I had been hoping to get to since my first study abroad meeting freshman year; however, my first day in London was not what I expected. My family and friends at home had been texting me all day wanting updates about the euphoria of landing in the UK, but I wasn’t euphoric, I was exhausted—truly, deeply exhausted.
I had an eight-hour overnight flight from Chicago to London. Despite my best efforts (A.K.A. my upcharged extra leg room, memory foam neck pillow and melatonin gummies), I could not fall asleep. I landed in London at 8:30 a.m. London time, which was 2:30 a.m. Illinois time, and boy, my body felt it. My first lesson on travel: do not bet on getting sleep on the plane.
After getting my bags, I had to walk from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3. I had planned ahead of time to share an Uber from the airport with two other IES Abroad students arriving at Heathrow around the same time. We met in Terminal 3 where the others were landing, so I walked over with my 75lbs of luggage. Lesson number two: Heathrow is well-organized, but huge. I walked for over fifteen minutes, mostly up an incline. This was also my first experience with an airport with no air conditioning. I knew that AC was uncommon in the UK, but I guess I had assumed that no AC would mean buildings are just the same temperature as outside. This is not the case. I was sweating.
I eventually made it to the next terminal and met up with the others, and we made it over to the parking garage to meet our Uber. This took a while, too, because we accidentally sent the Uber to the wrong floor of the parking garage (see lesson number two: the airport is huge). Once we finally got our bags to the car, we took off for a ninety-minute ride to Mannequin House. We arrived, checked in, and brought our bags up to our rooms—but not before my room assignment was switched up and I shocked some poor guy when I unlocked and walked into his room. With about ten minutes before my assigned neighborhood walking tour, I finally made it to my own room. This is when I learned lesson number three: it is really hard to think of everything you might need, so plan on shopping immediately.
I had planned on buying a couple of personal items right away, like towels, soap, etc. However, in the ten minutes I spent in my room, I realized that there was a lot more I’d need to get: toilet paper, a trashcan, trashbags, hand soap, hangers, and a desk fan for my hot, hot room. I kept this in mind as I took off for my walking tour. I was sweating, tired, and hadn’t gotten a chance to sleep, shower, change clothes, or brush my teeth since the morning before, and next to all the stylish, fast-walking Londoners, I was feeling very out of place.
At the end of our tours, the group spotted a Wilko and opted to grab the essentials before returning to our rooms. The dozen or so of us wandered around the store, navigating the different brands, helping each other find items around the store, and feeling embarrassed and tourist-y asking for plastic bags at checkout. There, I learned two more lessons.
Lesson number four: no one knows what they’re doing. In the past three days, I have met lots of wonderful people in this program. The students in the IES Abroad London program are some of the smartest, most ambitious, and most capable young people I’ve met, but we were all stumped at one point or another on that first day. Being dropped in a new city is hard, a new culture much harder, and it took one exhausting first day in London to figure out that adapting to a new place is confusing for everyone, and I was not alone.
Finally, lesson number five, and the one I’d give to anyone about to study abroad: the first day isn’t about comfort, excitement, or fully acclimating, it’s about the people. I met so many new people on my first day in London, from the girls I shared an Uber with, to the other jet-lagged travelers on my walking tour, to my flatmates I grabbed takeout with at the end of the night. I think meeting new people is the most important part of that first day in a new place because it makes everything else possible. I find comfort in knowing I have people to explore the city with. I’m excited at the idea of taking weekend trips with my new friends. I know I can become acclimated to this city now that I have other people to help me through the learning curve. And no matter how exhausting that first day was, finding my new community made that day worth it.
More Blogs From This Author
Hello! My name is Emma Hughes, and I'm a junior studying Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. I'm visiting London to study public relations and explore the arts and theatre communities in the UK. I love theatre, creative writing, game nights, and movies. This fall, I hope to have lots of new and exciting experiences in London, and that sharing them with you helps you get the most out of your time abroad!