December 9, 2016

Alex Wilking: Reflections from the City of Fog

Photo contributed by Alex Wilking

Photo contributed by Alex Wilking

This will be my last column while studying in London. I know it’s heartbreaking but please hold your tears until the end.

A Pikachu learns thunderbolt at level 26. That’s not applicable to this column, but takes weight away from me stating that I don’t like London much. Send your hate-mail, but I found the city to be too commercialized. The area surrounding Regents has so many souvenir shops and restaurants chains that it feels like another American city. If there’s a truly genuine area of the city that ditches the men-with-flyers mentality, I have yet to find it.

Sure Camden Town is fun because you can poke fun at the strange hairstyles. Sure Hyde Park is beautiful, and you can watch fluffy dogs trot around. But the immersion isn’t there for me. The language is basically the same — give a few added u’s and accents — and going to a Starbucks here feels no different than it does in Webster Groves, sorry. I was aware coming to London meant I would still be around English, but I didn’t realize it would make my stay feel so much less like another country.

But what I’ve loved about being here isn’t a place or any physical thing. I’ve learned so much about myself from studying abroad. I’ve gained newfound independence, a sense of adulthood I didn’t have before leaving home. There’s no safety net here, and it’s motivated me to really embrace growing up. I feel this is the overarching point of taking a semester elsewhere.

It doesn’t matter where you spend your semester abroad. I didn’t fall in love with London, but that didn’t stop me from getting the full experience of being away. It almost enhanced it. It forced me to go looking for the small moments that made me feel like I was across the world: A British woman telling me my accent was great, or the realization that I’m not eating microwavable popcorn until I return; even almost getting hit by a car because I still don’t know which way to look when crossing the street.

There’s an unexplainable beauty in being separated from home. It made the awkward adolescent in me man-up and look at my aspirations in a new light. If you’re on the fence about studying abroad, do it. Take this opportunity to not only explore the world, but explore yourself. There’s a clever joke there somewhere but I failed to find it.

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