Kathleen O’Leary is a 3rd year English major with minors in Mass Communication and History at the University of Florida. Her only experience abroad to date has been on family cruises to the Caribbean. This summer she’ll be studying literature and the humanities in the streets where Shakespeare acted, Charles Dickens drank, and Virginia Woolf walked with FSU Broad Curriculum program in London. Her classes are all field-trip based, so she’ll report to class in the British Museum and The Tower of London, a dream worth of a Disney movie. As an English major, there was no other city that could compete for her. In her free time, she enjoys reading (naturally) and drinking tea; however, she’s looking forward to experiencing new things, like her first legal pint and shopping with pounds.
Too much Peter Pan and Peter Rabbit at an impressionable age catalyzed an insatiable love for all things British in me. As my beloved Peters grew up and became Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff, I knew that I belonged in England, tracing the steps of my treasured imaginary British friends. So, by the time I entered college, I knew two things: 1. I belong in orange and blue, and 2. I was making my way to London, no matter what. I even found my perfect program: 12 weeks of liberal arts education, two blocks from the British Museum…at FSU. So, with a heavy heart, I folded my jorts away and prepared for a study of two new cultures—My beloved British and arch-nemesis Florida State. Through my trip, I’ll study how Yanks differ from Brits, and, perhaps with even greater diplomacy, if a Gator can survive in a sea of Seminoles.
Actually packing for my trip required even more planning than my Comparative Politics Final. Unlike Florida, summer comes to London in late June not April. So I essentially needed to fit a wardrobe for every season in one massive suitcase. After extremely creative origami, I finally managed to cram my entire life in my bag, confident I was ready. I left for London four days after I moved out of my apartment in Gainesville, so between finals stress and post-finals euphoria, I barely had time to really consider how long I’d be in London. I live about 2.5 hours away from UF, so I can easily travel home on weekends. Beyond that, two of my brothers attend UF, so if I become homesick, I can walk over to their place and crank up my crockpot. However, as my plane started descending in London, I realized that for the first time, I was totally isolated. In another country. 5000 miles away.
At the airport, I found other students wearing garnet and gold, and immediately latched on to them to find our way through customs to the bus stop. After lots of waiting in line and passport waving, I was completely overwhelmed. I don’t know how students travel in countries with languages besides English. Anyway, I eventually found my way to the Study Center. FSU renovated a seventeenth-century townhouse into a contemporary study center with flats, classrooms, laundry, and a library all in one place. It’s not the typical exchange study abroad experience, but I figured it would be less, well, scary. Also, it fulfills my summer requirement. Summer in London just seems much more exciting than summer in Gainesville.
So, weenie that I am, I started the lengthy process of making my flat home. The Center doesn’t have any elevators or air conditioning, so I lugged my 50 lb suitcase up five flights of winding stairs, proud all the Pilates classes I did at school finally had a practical use. My flat is really nice—I share a room with one girl, and the other bedroom houses three girls. We have two bathrooms and a modernized kitchen, much better than the classic UF freshmen dorms. Because no one slept on their flights, the day mostly consisted of unpacking and becoming orientated with the immediate borders. That night, I had my first legal pint of beer, and the foamy Guinness and posh accents finally made it seem like I was really in Britain.
The second day consisted of an extremely long orientation complete with the classic “Don’t drink and have sex. You will get pregnant. And Die” spiel. Then we had a walking tour of London. Everything is really accessible from the center which is very convenient. I can walk mostly anywhere, and anywhere I can’t walk is only a bus or underground ride away. After visiting another pub with my roommates, I went back to my flat and showered, totally exhausted from the time change and no sleep. I’d tried to skype/email/smoke signal my family, but the time change made it difficult for us to communicate at the same time.
That night I managed to finally managed to reach them, and seeing them in actual time made me really emotional. I’d thought I was totally ready for London. After all, I’d spent my entire life wishing I was there, from waking up at 3 AM to watch the Royal Wedding with homemade scones to reading and watching every single Jane Austen adaptation ever. Still, living in an entirely different culture with its own currency, jargon, and customs with totally foreign people really shook me. I was embarrassed to admit my conflicting emotions. After all, this is the trip of a lifetime. I was supposed to be having the clichéd “time of my life”. But London scared me. It was like the cold, rainy weather had sucked my sunshine away. My mom gave me a pep talk worth of a Muschamp halftime pep talk, and I left motivated to try harder to make my London life into my real life.
The next day classes started, and the routine helped me readjust. This block I’m taking Introduction to Theatre in London in a class with only four students. Our professor is really enthusiastic and surprised us with a trip that very night to a production of Othello, one of my favorite Shakespeare tragedies. Between that and a weekend trip to Edinburgh approaching, my sun is emerging behind the London clouds.