When I was little, my family would always take vacations down to Disney World. We would buy funny hats, watch the fireworks, and cap the trip off by riding the jolliest, catchiest ride in the park: It’s a Small World.
For those of you who have never ridden this cheery ride, it features hundreds of animatronic dolls, dressed up as different people from across the world, frolicking and singing of global peace and connectivity.
My first day here in London sort of felt like that ride, filled with excitement and giddiness. However, from the moment that I left my comfortable home, it didn’t feel like a small world…it felt like a huge, gigantic, HUMONGOUS world. That made me a little bit scared.
I left my house around 3 pm after running to Target to purchase a neck pillow for the 6 hour plane ride ahead of me. My mom and I snapped a final selfie before lugging my bags from the car to the airline check-in desk where I parted ways with my giant blue duffle bag and prayed that it would meet me safely on the other side.
After the 6 hour and 40 minute flight (which I spent watching 500 Days of Summer and Birdman, and trying to drown out the crying toddler on the plane with loud music/earplugs) we touched down in London Heathrow Airport where it was just over 60 degrees and cloudy—typical London weather. Excited to have made it, I went through customs with a smile on my face and eagerly headed towards the baggage claim.
However, after waiting for 10 minutes my bag had still not arrived…this was a bit worrisome. I called my mom (thankfully the airport had free wifi) and told her that my luggage was nowhere to be found. I ran to the baggage help desk and told them about my dilemma and they ensured me that the bag had arrived and was placed on the baggage carousel. So where did it go?! It turned out that a light blue duffel suitcase (I owned a dark blue duffel suitcase) was left at the baggage claim, thankfully, with the phone number of its owner. The woman working at the desk tried calling the number and sadly, after I was told that no one answered the phone, I began to fill out a lost baggage form. However, as I was filling it out the owner of the luggage left at the baggage claim called back saying that he had my bag! I was overjoyed and thankful that I didn’t have to spend all of my pounds on a brand new wardrobe (although after seeing the cute clothes in Primark—basically the Target of London—I don’t think I would have minded…).
Upon meeting the guy who accidentally took my bag—he was also a student studying abroad in the city—we discovered that we are from neighboring towns in Pennsylvania! This made me think…there are other people here who are from the same place as me and going through similar things. Other people are also learning about a brand new culture and feeling the same feelings of excitement and nervousness that I am! It’s a small world after all.
After arriving at the King’s Cross Residence Building, I filled out some paperwork and headed up to my tiny room on the 11th floor. Even though it’s tiny, it has a great view!
I unpacked my things (as well as I could into my miniature closet) and headed to a walking tour around noon. We walked around King’s Cross Station—the train station located right down the road from my residence hall—and purchased an Oyster Travel Card so that we could ride the bright red buses that invade the streets all day.
We then boarded a double decker bus and headed to Oxford Street to go shopping for the essentials—towels, hair dryers, and phones. After burning a hole in my wallet at Primark and Boots (the UK equivalent of CVS), we headed back to Kings Cross and walked around in search of a dinner spot. While walking, we randomly came upon a Nando’s! Almost every one of my friends from home told me that I HAD to go to Nando’s while I was in London (Nando’s is a chain restaurant that serves this amazing chicken with different flavors of sauces ranging from plain to medium to extra hot).
It seemed as though this restaurant was placed here just for me—as if whoever built it there knew I would be walking by hungrily looking for something that would remind me of home (and all of the friends that are there who suggested I stuff my face at this amazing place). It’s a small world after all.
Finally, we closed off the day by heading to Tesco—a UK grocery store—to buy food and snacks to have back at the residence hall. We wandered up and down each aisle trying to figure out what we would be able to cook without burning the entire building down (none of us are experienced chefs). We decided that we would buy some pasta, cereal, and pretzels and headed over to the snack aisle. To my surprise I saw a bag on the shelf labeled “Penn State Pretzels: Classic American Snacks.” Even though—I’m pretty sure—Penn State isn’t famous for our pretzels, nor are they a “Classic American Snack,” it still amazed me and made me happy to think that there was a little piece of home in the snack aisle of Tescos.
Even though I’ve only seen a small part of it, I already know that London is such an amazing city. Although the culture change can be a bit overwhelming at times—especially when trying to cross the street and figure out which bus to take back to King’s Cross—I know that if I’m ever feeling homesick or need a piece of America, I can just walk down the street and buy a bag of pretzels and know that all of my troubles will fade.
It’s a small world after all.
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<p>Natalie Walden is a Junior at Penn State University, majoring in Public Relations and minoring in International Studies and Vocal Performance. On any given day, you can find her around campus singing with her a cappella group or drinking Jamba Juice at one of the HUB tables. She is a brother of Phi Sigma Pi honors fraternity and one of the THON chairs of the Oriana Singers and Glee Club THON organization. Her talents include impersonating Britney Spears/Shakira and binge watching shows on Netflix (which she will not be doing much of while abroad...). Natalie has never been to Europe before and can't wait to share all of her amazing adventures across the pond!</p>