Posted in Issues, Study Abroad

TAKING OFF — Chapter Three: The Arrival

London. London. London. I’m going to London! That is all that went through my head for weeks after I received my acceptance letter to the London School of Economics and Political Science. For a long-standing Anglophile, cultivated by years of watching British comedies on PBS, crushing on Wills, swooning over Cary Grant, solving and committing murders with Angela Lansbury, and, of course, enjoying the magic of Disney in the forms of Hailey Mills (Pollyanna, The Parent Trap), Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, and Robin Hood, this was a dream come true.

My friend, James, rented a Palace Guard's costume for my going away party.

But, the closer the date came for me to get on that plane and fly to England, fears and doubts began to bubble up. What worried me was the chance of a recurrence of what I experienced with culture shock while in the Netherlands. Two and half years had passed since I studied in Utrecht. Surely, by being more aware of culture shock I could reduce its severity, right?

This was my master’s degree. I didn’t want any shock-related issues to affect my studies. I couldn’t ignore the memories of how paralyzing culture shock had been for me, but I didn’t want to start off my year being bogged down by them. Nor did I want London to be ruined or tainted by a past it didn’t write. I tried to focus on making a fresh start. I had no notions of the people I would meet, nor any goals for the flight. I tried to remain excited about going.

The plane arrived at Heathrow early in the morning. Groggily, I made my way to the luggage carousel and through customs. It wasn’t until I was waiting for the Heathrow Express to take me to Paddington Station that it hit me. This was it. I had arrived. I was in London. THE London. Soon to be MY London, I hoped.

Once at Paddington Station, I switched to the Underground. I loved the Underground from previous trips. The map was easy to understand and I never feared getting lost. And if I did, I could console myself with some of my favorite chocolate from the Cadbury vending machines. I needed to take the Bakerloo Line to Oxford Street and then transfer to the Central Line. The Central Line would take me to my stop, Holborn Station. On the map this looked simple enough. It wasn’t.

First, I encountered morning rush hour. This is not the time to be navigating the narrow hallways connecting platforms of the Tube with one large, heavy pull piece of luggage and a book bag protruding from my back. Not only are there more people, but they are all in a hurry, and, therefore, try to jam as many of themselves into a car as possible. I tried not to take up too much precious space, but it was inevitable, and I drew irritated glares.

Then, I came across my first ever stations that didn’t have escalators and elevators. This meant lugging my overstuffed suitcase up and down what felt like hundreds of steps. My hand began to burn. I could only make it five or six steps at a time before I had to stop, readjust my grip, and continue. What the hell did I pack?!

Arriving at Holborn Station, I finally had an escalator, but only after a small flight of stairs. Fortunately, the residence hall I was staying in until I found my own accommodations was just down the road according to the directions I had. 178 High Holborn. By this time, I also had to use the restroom, or, I should say, the loo. A bursting bladder and blistered hand were not how I saw this arrival going.

As I made my way down the road, I used the numbers on the buildings across the street to guide me as I could not read the ones on my side because they were either missing or too high up on the facades for me to easily read. The numbers were going up – 131, 132. I  was going the right way. When I reached a really ornate building with a marquee over the sidewalk that read Holborn Hall, I thought I was at my destination and minutes away from relief.

As I approached, however, the building number told me this was 193-197. What?! Somewhere between the 130s and the 190s I had missed it. How was that possible? I didn’t recall seeing anything that indicated a residence hall or even a building owned by the school. I turned around and headed back for another look.

Reaching the Tube station, I had gone too far. I knew the hall was down this road, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find the number. I retraced my steps between the station and Holborn Hall for what seemed an eternity to my hand and bladder. I needed Sherlock Holmes. Clearly not finding the building, I decided to go a bit further down the road.

Bingo. Not two blocks from Holborn Hall was the residence hall. I could actually see it from the spot where I kept turning around. Well, didn’t I feel the fool for getting so close again and again. That’s when I realized that on this street the numbers on the buildings ran in opposite directions. The ones across the road counted up and the ones on my side counted down. I felt a little less foolish then. What a morning.

Covent Garden

Perhaps the tone of my arrival was indicative of the next 12 months – struggle after struggle. I sure hoped not. Though, as far as struggles go, these were not even blips. Perhaps it was a reminder to me that annoying stuff will happen, but it’s how I deal with them that counts. I knew from the Netherlands that if I held onto each little negative thing that happened, the accumulation would eventually tear me down. This time I’d listen to the old adage and not sweat the small stuff.

Once inside the long sought-after residence hall, I relinquished myself of my bags, used the loo [insert huge sigh of relief], and walked back out of the building. Once on the sidewalk, I turned left as I didn’t desire seeing the same section of street I had been pacing for the past half hour.

Left was a great choice. It offered new sights and no previous causes of irritation. I decided to take another left, and before too long, found myself in Covent Garden smiling from ear to ear. I wondered if Eliza Doolittle was around. London. London. London. I was in London!

Posted in Souvenirs

Travel Writing 101

“Am at Ponti’s in Co Garden. No more Tri Colore for Julian. May have miss ordered. But really can’t recall. So don’t feel entirely bad. My nose is running from being so cold. I am not sitting close enough to a heater to really feel any relief. I can hear the street performers entertaining a good-sized crowd…The only words of the performer I can discern are Are You Ready?! – otherwise he could be speaking in a foreign tongue…My desired sandwich having arrived am wondering why the ciabatta has [not] broken its way completely into the US…”

I wrote this lovely bit of text while in an outdoor eatery in Covent Garden, London in late October a few years ago. I was trying out one of the techniques suggested in Dave Fox’s Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip). And the bad spelling, abbreviations, and poor grammar are completely acceptable, practically required.

Shortly before the trip, the Wisconsin Book Festival descended upon Madison. Looking through the large number of offerings, a talk on travel writing caught my eye. As I have always wondered if I could write about my travels in an interesting way, I went to check it out and see what I could learn.

I arrived early (as I usually do to things, sometimes way too early) to the local bookshop and came across Dave’s book on display. Knowing my trip to London was coming up I was really hoping this book would deliver some great ideas that I could put into use immediately. The humorous cover and title looked promising. I bought the book.

My first travel journal was for my first study abroad experience – six weeks in Ireland. The style of writing was basically a catalog of the each day’s events.

“…then I got ready for class. I ran into Sandy and told her she was going to be late for class. Then she reminded me that class was at 1:30, not one. So I went and sat at the track and field area on a bench…”

Thrilling stuff! Though the format was about the same each day, more often than not, interesting stuff did happen – I swear. So, for obvious reasons I wanted something different for my upcoming trip.

Dave’s book definitely pointed me in the right direction. The book is funny, light, and gets to the crux of issues people face when wanting to keep a journal of their travels, namely, time and self-censorship. His answer is speed journaling – having a preset amount of time, usually 10-15 minutes, and throwing all grammatical caution to the wind to capture the trip in bite sized nuggets.

My favorite ideas from the book pertain to ways to narrow your writing focus while speed journaling, such as focusing on themes, captioning, and verbal snapshots. The passage at the beginning of this post about Covent Garden is my first attempt at quickly jotting down what all my senses were receiving and perceiving at the moment of writing and what thoughts were running through my mind. When I read it now I remember that day, how I felt, what I was doing, and I remember other details not in the entry like how I couldn’t seem to find enough napkins for my runny nose let alone find enough to stash in my pockets to make it beyond lunch. I was quite frustrated.

To practice each of his suggestions Dave has “Flight Simulators.” These are brief exercises to help you find the technique that will work best for you. What I think is especially unique is that he has a number of simulators for writing pre-departure to address concerns that might impede a successful journaling experience while traveling. It also gets you in the mode of writing so you aren’t starting cold turkey. Dave also has suggestions on how to turn these speed journal scrawls into more fully developed entries and potentially entries you’d like to share with others.

If you’re interested creating a fantastic keepsake from your travels without the headache of having to write hours upon hours, Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip) by Dave Fox is worth a look.