I’m in London! Sorry this post is a little late everyone – jetlag and the combination of extreme confusion and long hours of orientation have combined to form one big sleepy, lazy Claireblob. This post will be a bit long, but I hope it will fill you in on the basics of the last three days!
I arrived at Chicago O’Hare four hours early on Monday afternoon, which gave me a long time to check my bags and sit in the international terminal with my mom and brother, eating our heavenly-tasting philly cheesesteaks and judging where we thought people came from. It’s amazing how easy it is to tell what country or region of the world someone comes from, simply based on their dress or look. Impeccably tailored outfits, square glasses frames, beautifully-embroidered saris and heavy makeup (usually not on the same person) were everywhere to be seen. I know it sounds terrible to judge people based on their appearance, but this was innocent enough, and I quickly realized how strongly Americans stood out against the crowd. As someone who hates to stand out as a tourist, this was one of my first lessons: sometimes, it’s just kind of obvious you don’t belong. Embrace it!
The waiting area at the departure gate was filled with university students traveling to London on the Arcadia program and many of them were from IU, though I had never met any of them before. Our flight was on Virgin Atlantic, and the airline met and exceeded my expectations. The meals were excellent, the flight attendants attentive, and they even gave us free gift baggies containing socks, eye covers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and a pen! (Yes, it’s true, my heart can be bought with free pens and socks. I’ve come to terms with it.) On the plane I also encountered my first British language lesson. My seatmate Brian, when asked what drink he would like, responded “Sprite,” to which the flight attendant responded “We have lemonade.” Confused by this but a bit too polite to point out that these two drinks were not remotely similar, the flight attendant noticed Brian’s confusion and explained that in fact lemon-lime soda is referred to as lemonade in Britain. Who knew? (Update: I encountered this situation again at dinner tonight when a fellow student ordered a lemonade and was brought a Sprite-like soda.) Tips for your next trip to Britain: order “still lemonade” for the American version, otherwise expect a quite fizzy, significantly less-lemony alternative!
Our 8-hour flight landed on time at a seemingly-deserted Heathrow airport, that is until my fellow students and I proceeded to stand for 2 hours in line at Customs. 2 hours! At 8 in the morning! Ugh. Despite the delay we eventually made it down to collect our baggage which was mercifully still circulating on baggage conveyor belts, and made our way to meet the buses which had been sent to collect us. My first view of England from the ground was cold, windy, rainy and perfect, the exact stereotype of British weather. Driving on the left side of the road during the hour-long trip into central London didn’t seem so strange until we reached a massive roundabout and I nearly fried my brain trying to imagine navigating said roundabout in my own car. British drivers are scary enough without the added complication of traffic laws!
When we finally made it to our flat, my fellow flatmates and I proceeded to drag our suitcases into a lovely white rowhome in the middle of a quaint, residential neighborhood at the corner of the neighborhood of Earl’s Court and Brompton. Schoolchildren in uniforms with cute British accents are out every afternoon with their nannies, and one block down from our apartment is a neighborhood church, lovely little park, and row upon row of similarly-crafted white flats with ornate fronts and rooftop gardens. While it’s about an hour by tube to the heart of London, it is a wonderful neighborhood situated on the same street as a tube station, LOTS of pubs, kebab shops, convenience stores, and true local culture. Plus, Kensington Street with its rows of shops and Holland Park are only a 20-minute walk away!
Our flat introduced us to another facet of British life that many of my flatmates had not accounted for in their packing: the utter lack of elevators. Our flat is four stories tall, only accessible by a winding narrow staircase – dragging one’s suitcase(s) upstairs in a jetlagged stupor is enough to make one seriously reconsider packing that 15th pair of shoes! (No, I did not pack nearly that many.) I am living in the topmost room of my flat with one roommate, Maddie, who also attends IU and is majoring in marketing. Our room is small but completely liveable, and the view from my desk over the rooftops of our London neighborhood constantly makes me feel as if I am living in the world of Mary Poppins.
After unpacking, several of us headed out to buy supplies. We ate lunch in a lovely little kebab shop that only cost me £2, and also stopped at Argos, a store where the only thing lining the walls are massive catalogs of merchandise (you record the serial number of the item you want, then request it at the register). Everything there is cheap, though you have to make sure that an item is in stock at the store first before you order it. After buying groceries at Tesco, returning home to put everything away, attending an orientation meeting, eating free pizza, going on a neighborhood walk, doing a little bit more shopping, and taking a shower, I couldn’t stay awake any longer and ended up falling asleep around 9PM London time. With the exception of a couple power naps on the plane, I hadn’t slept since Sunday night!
I managed to wake up at 5am London time on Wednesday, but convinced myself to go back to sleep until a more reasonable hour. The sun is up early in the morning and late into the evening here (5AM-10PM), so it’s easy to think it’s a lot later or earlier than it actually is. We spent all day at orientation meetings at City University (our sponsoring institution while we’re in London), though for all the time we spent there it felt like we didn’t leave with much more information than we started with. I finally got my internship placement, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Pending my successful interview today (eep!) I’ll be working with a non-profit public policy organization called PolicyConnect, a group which attempts to bridge Parliament and industry to promote effective policy. They are headed by Barry Sheerman, MP, and their website is http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/, just in case. I’ll let you know how my interview goes!
I have so much more to to report, but the clock tells me I have been awake far too long already, and this post has gotten far out of hand in terms of length. Updates are imminent, as are skype dates and more stories. Love from the UK!