Alex Rosone is a student at Lindenwood University currently studying abroad in London, England. In this blog, Alex writes about her experience traveling to and arriving in England.
Thursday, January 20, 2022, I arrived in London from my small suburb of northern New Jersey. Mostly wide-eyed as a result of Main Character Syndrome, I leaned my head against the window of the taxi on the way to my accommodation like I was in a music video. From there I watched the city flit by from west to east, marveling over terraced houses, pubs adorned in greenery, and cherry-red double-decker buses.
This was everything I’d been dreaming of for years. Since my first trip to London, I’d been fascinated with British culture, and I’d spent an inordinate amount of time crafting this vision of myself staring out the window of a coffee shop working on my writing and watching the rain. So why was I so anxious? (Other than my general disposition as a 26-year-old Jewish woman from the Northeast, that is.)
It could be because I was more than 3,000 miles from home. Or because I was alone. Or because I was starting my life from scratch in a foreign country. Or because I only slept for an hour on the plane and hadn’t eaten since before I left home. I suppose it was less of a mystery and more of a burden, but either way, I wanted to shed that feeling. Fast.
There’s an old trick, they say, for when you’re feeling anxious: identify five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Standing in my empty student accommodation with little more than half-unpacked luggage and a bag of Chex-Mix, I had a feeling that exercise wasn’t going to cut it there just yet. So, I took to the pub. When in London, right?
My walk to the pub was less than a minute (lucky me, I know), but it didn’t stop my thoughts from racing up and down the Shoreditch backroads. What if there wasn’t space at the bar? Is it weird to sit at a table alone here? What if there’s drink-ordering etiquette that’s different from home? What if I burst into tears as soon as I sit down?
Before I had time to panic, I was pulling open the doors despite myself and staring into the single most charming place I’d ever seen. I can do this. I slid onto a stool, placed my order, then took out my journal and got to work.
5 Things I Saw:
- A roaring fireplace, casting the pub in a warm, golden glow.
- A large family of locals, greeting each other with hugs and kisses and sloshing pints.
- An old wooden bookshelf stocked with games and puzzles.
- Polaroids of smiling regulars lining the overhang above the bar.
- A mural-sized map of London.
4 Things I Felt:
- The wood grain bar top under my forearms.
- The cool glass against my fingertips.
- The warm wool sweater I was wearing to brave the London winter.
- The heavy weight of the ballpoint pen my mother gifted to me before I left for this exact purpose.
3 Things I Heard:
- Loud laughter (and when I say loud, I really mean it).
- The acoustic version of Eric Clapton’s “Layla.”
- Accents I recognized and accents I definitely didn’t.
2 Things I Smelled:
- The smoke and ashes from the fire (the smell is still lingering in my hair if I’m honest).
- The damp London air every time someone new swung open the door.
1 Thing I Tasted:
- Cider. Sweet, familiar, cider.
This is the London I dreamed of and the version of myself I pictured here. While my anxiety did not disappear (I was still on the brink of something major), it did make itself smaller to make room for excitement.
The longer I sat there and stared at my surroundings hoping to look more like a pensive artist than a tourist, the better I was able to sift through the swirling emotional chaos of my arrival. I’d unpack how I felt the same way I’d unpack the capsule wardrobe in my suitcase. Little by little, I’d put my fears, goals, nerves, and plans into boxes, organize those boxes, and return to them with intention.
If I could sit in a pub alone, I could certainly explore the blocks surrounding my accommodation to find hangers. I could navigate a Sainsbury’s and pull together a meal in my studio kitchen. I could figure out how to get the bus to campus (with the help of Citymapper, of course).
More than that, I could spend my weekend days wandering aimlessly through rows of market stalls, sampling local foods and buying fresh flowers. I could take day trips to Oxford and Cambridge and do long weekends in Edinburgh or Paris. I could meet like-minded people through my courses and get a quality international education. I could call London home.
I could do this.