I’m in London, Fancy That!

5/16/2012

Day 0:

Today is the day that I will embark on a journey, a journey that will begin the next chapter of my life. My life will experience a whole different city, country, continent…London, England, Europe. I can’t believe just a year ago it was a dream, and now it will finally become a reality. As soon as I heard about study abroad in my Warrington Welcome class (First Year Florida class for business majors), it took only a few minutes to convince me that it would be all worth it (that is, the time and money). Right then and there, I made studying abroad one of my goals in college.

What is this journey and where will it take me? This summer, I will be participating in the UF in London study abroad program through the College of Business. I am currently a third year Management major minoring in Chinese. In the future, I hope to become the CEO of a successful company, or own my own business. Either way, I want to follow in the footsteps of my parents and pursue a career in the business field.

So why London? Out of all of the countries I could have chosen from to study abroad, why did I single out London? Easy! I have never been to Europe before and visiting London has always been a dream of mine ever since I was young. Now that I had the chance to take classes AND participate in an international internship in one summer, how could I let this opportunity go to waste? I wouldn’t let this perfect opportunity slip by, that’s for sure!

One of the perks of studying abroad in London is that the main language spoken there is English, which saves me from having to try to pick up another language (trying to learn Chinese is hard enough as it is already!). But I’ll still have to get acquainted to the British slang. Another perk is that London is recognized as the cultural mecca of the UK and a leading global city with strengths in finance, entertainment, and the arts. London has numerous breathtaking attractions from churches to museums, including Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and Buckingham Palace. I plan on visiting as many of these beautiful landmarks as I can! Another event in London that I am ecstatic about is the Summer Olympics 2012. Having the country you plan to study abroad host the Olympics….talk about perfect timing! I am so lucky and thankful to be attending 2 Olympic events: Beach Volleyball and Basketball. I will be rooting and cheering wildly…USA! USA! USA! It really will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am highly looking forward to.

It still hasn’t hit me that in less than 24 hours, I will be typing from my laptop thousands of miles away in my London dorm or from a cute little London café (hopefully with WiFi). I will be immersed in a new culture and having the time of my life. Some of the goals I want to accomplish in London are to enhance my professional and personal experiences, make life-long friendships, travel to different countries in Europe, and most importantly, try new things. I think taking risks and experiencing new things takes studying abroad to a whole different level. Even the small things, like trying “bangers and mash”, “fish and chips”, and “tea and crumpets”, makes the whole traveling experience more incredible. I mean, how many chances will I have to travel to Europe in the future? Probably not that many, so while I DO have the chance, why not make the most out of the time that I DO have? I can’t express how excited I am to start this new chapter in my life. I will create so many lasting memories that I will share with my friends and family when I come back to The States. Up until today, I have been packing, planning, and practicing how to not so obviously look like an American tourist when I get to London. I can’t wait to share my pictures and experiences with all of you!

5/17/2012

Day 1:

An 8 hour flight later…we finally arrive to the London Gatwick Airport! It is 7:25am and chilly outside (unlike the excruciating hot Florida weather). We have to buy a one-way ticket for the Gatwick Express train that takes you to the Victoria tube (subway) station. This is where the awful traveling experience comes in…I have to lug two large 50 pound suitcases, plus my duffle bag AND backpack, onto the busy train. Thank goodness that I was traveling with 3 other people so we all helped each other get our luggage on the train. Did I mention that there was barely any space to put our baggage? We basically had to block the aisles with our luggage and we had to stand because there were no seats on the crowded train. Good thing the train ride was only about 20 minutes long. When we got off, we took a black cab to the Metrogate Residence where the students on the UF in London program would be living. The cab ride was so exciting because I was really able to see the beauty of London as we drove through the elegant and scenic city. My dorm is a triplet with 3 individual beds (yay for no bunk beds!), 3 closets, 3 nightstands with lamps, a mini fridge, and a bathroom that the 3 of us share. The dorm is much nicer than I thought it would be, however, many of the buildings in London don’t have air-conditioning…including my dorm. It’s a good thing our room came with a rotating stand-up fan and windows that we can open.

After we settle into our dorms, we have a residence life meeting where we discuss rules and general information about the dorm. Then, we went to Waitrose to buy groceries. Everything was fresh, but pretty expensive. We also HAD to take a picture in front of Waitrose with our groceries. Imagine a group of tourists taking a picture in front of Publix…yes, that is what we looked like standing in front of Waitrose.

For dinner, we ate at a delicious Italian restaurant right down the street from our dorm called Da Mario. Princess Diana was known for bringing her sons to eat at this restaurant. I tried the mushroom pizza and loved it!

That night, I passed out (not literally) at 10:00pm. I was so exhausted from the long flight, hauling my heavy luggage around, and unpacking most of my things. It was a long day and I was so ready to hit the sheets. Tomorrow will be my first full day in London and I can’t wait to explore the city!

5/18/2012

Day 2:

I start the morning off by taking a walk to Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, which are only about a 7 minute walk away from my dorm. They are some of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen. They have 350 acres of luscious greenery where children and dogs run around freely. It’s the perfect place for couples and families to spend some time outdoors and enjoy the sunny weather (which is rare, considering London’s summer weather is very rainy). Did I mention how cute the children and dogs in London are? The park was filled with adorable babies AND puppies! I also saw Kensington Palace, Prince William and Kate’s new home.

After the group of us explored the royal parks, we grabbed a sandwich from a restaurant called Paul and headed to our program orientation. At the orientation, we were given an Oyster card, which we can use for Zones 1 and 2 of the underground tube and for the public buses. Now we were able to travel further into the city with our Oyster cards! Our first stop was Trafalgar Square, where the National Gallery, the Olympic Countdown Clock, and other historical statues are. Then, we walked to the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. It started to rain a little bit, but we didn’t let the bad weather stop us from enjoying our night! After all of that walking, we stopped at a Pub in Piccadilly Circus and I got to try Fish and Chips for the first time. It was much better than the “Fish and Chips” that I’ve tried in America. We were tired from walking all night, but it was so worth it!

5/19/2012

Day 3:

We had a Bus Tour and Walk-around Tour scheduled for today by our program. We rode the bus around Soho, Chinatown, and the Kensington area. We stopped at Buckingham Palace, but we only had time to take a quick picture. I definitely will be going back to watch the Changing of the Guard. We hopped back onto the bus and headed towards the Tower Bridge and Tower of London. I can’t wait to go see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London one of these days. I’ve heard they are incredible.

After our Bus Tour, we had a lunch break before we began our Walking Tour so a group of us grabbed a sandwich from Pret a Manger, which is a very popular British sandwich retail chain (there is literally a Pret on every corner in London), and had a little picnic in Hyde Park. Then, it was time to head back to Metrogate for our Walking Tour. We walked around the Kensington area and learned about the history of the Kensington Palace, Royal Albert Hall, and other historical figures and sites. It was amazing to learn that even just in South Kensington, there is so much history! The Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum are right around the corner from my dorm. Not only are these world class museums a short walk away from my dorm, they are free! How much better can it get?

When the Walking tour ended, we took a little break before we headed to the Imperial College Student Union (where FIE students have membership to) to watch the 2012 UEFA Champions League Final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Soccer…I mean Football (as they call it here) is a HUGE thing in England and all over Europe. Inside the Student Union is a bar, where college students can socialize and enjoy different types of ciders (alcoholic beverages made from apple juice and quite popular in the UK), ales, and other drinks. When we arrive at the Student Union, everyone is already seated and getting ready to watch the match on the large projector screen that has been set up. The atmosphere of the screaming fans is so exciting and gives me an adrenaline rush as I’m watching the game. When it came down to the final penalty kick, Chelsea scored and won! I could feel the rumble of the Student Union as everyone was cheering and celebrating the victory. I’m usually not a huge fan of football, but this was such a fun experience!

5/20/2012

Day 4:

Since Chelsea won the Champions League the night before, there was a victory parade happening today with Chelsea players showing off the Champions League trophy through London’s Kings Road. A group of us decided to go and see the parade, but we definitely underestimated how crowded the streets would be. As soon as we arrived, everyone in the crowd was jostling each other around to get a closer view of the street. People were throwing stalks of celery into the crowd (it is some kind of Chelsea Tradition), people stood on the roofs of buildings to get a better view of the parade, and people were chanting “Champione, champione, ole, ole, ole!”. It was craziness, and we weren’t able to see anything so we decided to leave. It was still fun though to be in the middle of all of the excitement and see the passion on the faces of the many die hard Chelsea fans.

5/21/2012

Day 5:

One of the many large attractions happening in London this summer is the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Ever since I was a child, attending the Summer Olympics has been a dream of mine. I am so fortunate that I will be attending two Olympic Events this summer: Beach Volleyball and Basketball. I cannot wait until the end of July when the games begin! Today, a group of us went to visit Olympic Park to see where many of the games will be held. When we arrived at Olympic Park, we came across what looked like a huge incomplete construction site. There was a lot of construction taking place, so visitors weren’t allowed inside the park yet. We were kind of disappointed, but then we remembered that we still had the whole summer to go back. Across from Olympic Park was the Westfield Shopping Center, where many clothing stores, restaurants, and the Official London Olympics Store were located. We walked around the mall for a while and ate at a Burrito place in the mall food court (that was a treat, since there are such few Mexican restaurants in London compared to the many in Gainesville).

Afterwards, we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Princess Diana wed on July 29, 1981. We weren’t able to attend a service because we had arrived there too late, but we’ll definitely go back to attend a service next time. The architecture from the outside is beautiful; I can’t wait to go inside the cathedral a different day.

Then, we headed to the Museum of London and learned about the history of London from prehistoric to present times. My favorite exhibit was the dress of Ann Fanshawe. She was the daughter of Crisp Gascoyne, who became Mayor of the City of London in 1753. The type of dress was called a mantua; it was very wide, had intricate designs on the dress, and was made from expensive silk. We took a break at the café in the museum, and I tried my first cup of London tea. I had the Earl Grey and enjoyed it very much. The tea in London tasted much fresher and more flavorful than the tea I’ve had in America. I can’t wait to try other flavors of tea soon!

5/22/2012

Day 6:

I remember those good ol’ days in middle school and high school when we went on class field trips pretty frequently. In college, that ended for me…until I came to London! I am going to be taking a British Life & Culture Class through FIE for the first half of the summer. The class officially begins tomorrow, but today we had a class field trip planned to tour the Houses of Parliament, also known as Westminster Palace. When we stepped inside of the building, we had to go through a whole security process (like at the airport) and we got our picture taken. The inside of Parliament was filled with beautiful paintings, statues, and historical information. We walked through the Chambers of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It was fascinating to see where many important governmental decisions in London were made.

After the tour, I met up with my friend, Kelsey, who was traveling around Europe with her parents. She was only going to be in London for a few days, so we planned a lunch date at Garfunkel’s Restaurant near Trafalgar Square. We had a great time sharing the experiences we had had so far traveling abroad.

Later that night, a group of us went to the beer gardens at the Imperial College Union and had a few drinks. It was a fun time hanging out with everyone and talking about life. Tomorrow morning would be the start of our Business Life and Culture Class.

5/23/2012

Day 7:

Today was the first day of my Business Life and Culture Class at FIE. It was an early start to the day, considering I had been sleeping in for the past few days. I’m so happy that my class is held in the Foundation House building of FIE, which is less than a 10 minute walk away from my dorm, so it’s not a bad commute at all! The teacher, Mark Donnarumma, gave an overview of the course and went over the syllabus, like any typical American teacher would do on the first day class. I am excited to learn more about London’s culture and to go on tours to a number of places including Brick Lane, Fullers Brewery, Barclays, Bloomberg, and more! After class, a group of us went to Sainsbury’s to buy groceries. Sainsbury’s can compare to a Winn-Dixie in America, the quality is not as good as Waitrose, but the prices are much lower and Sainsbury’s is more student-friendly. It’s convenient that Sainsbury’s is just down the street from the Foundation House, so I’ll probably be doing most of my grocery shopping after class. Tomorrow our class will be taking a field trip to Bishopsgate Library and then we’ll be touring East End.

Check out some of my UF in London Study Abroad photos on Flickr!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kstinas7/

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