What are the first things you think of when you hear the word London? What comes to your mind? Is it posh English men and women sipping on some Earl Grey while nibbling on a scone? Is it Queen Elizabeth walking her cute little corgis down the pavement (not sidewalk)? Or is it TV shows like “The Crown,” “Poldark,” “Downton Abbey,” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody?”
If these are the thoughts that came to mind, let me take you on a journey.
As you walk down the pavement, cobblestones brush the soles of your shoes while gothic spires pierce the cerulean sky and the smell of fried cod and chips suffuse your nose. All around, you hear people speaking in deciphered codes with words like brill and cheers. You wonder what they mean, but only for a moment before an auditory wave of Chinese, French, and Russian fill the air with their own unique melodies – a linguistic orchestra, live on the streets between Downing and Whitehall. A cool, gentle breeze drifts through you and you start to question whether that’s where the chills tingling down your spine came from.
You feel a deep hunger but from your eyes. They starve for the visual stimuli surrounding you, so you take an underground tube to venture through the city. Several tube stops later, you’re in Embankment casually strolling down the pavement next to the Thames River (pronounced tems). You notice some twinkling lights waltzing all over the Thames and learn that outer space isn’t the only place stars call home. A man strumming an acoustic guitar can be heard singing by the river. Lady, running down to the riptide / Taken away to the dark side / I wanna be your left-hand man / I Love you when you’re singing that song and / I got a lump in my throat ‘cause / You’re gonna sing the words wrong.
Curious about the rest of the city you now claim to be your second home, you jump on another tube and head for Picadilly Circus and Covent Garden and everything in between. A familiar voice can be heard as you exit the train, reminding you to “Mind the gap between the train and the platform.” Five minutes later you surface to a square of street performers, each performing their own art. One man is performing tricks you’d see at a circus and then you come to the conclusion, “Oh! That’s why they call it Picadilly Circus.” But before you can take in all the visual treats before you, a huge growl from your stomach echoes loud enough to spook the elderly woman sleeping on the bench awake.
You take this as a cue to eat some dumplings in Chinatown, a place so hidden within London you’d call it a gem. Stuffed, you head the streets to satiate your creative soul. The solution? A seat at one of the West End’s best theatre, watching Orlando Bloom, in the flesh, perform Killer Joe and woe the audience by stripping bare.
You leave the theatre in awe and feel it. A burning sensation courses from the tips of your toes to the ends of your hair, a revelation that you have grown in ways nobody could ever understand without experiencing it themselves. As the lights dim, you call it a day and walk home just ‘cause you can. Your head and body thump onto the divine cloud you call a bed before you enter a slumber. One morning, you open your eyes and find yourself back at home and wonder if the London you experienced was merely another dream.
I went on this journey of a lifetime through a third-party study abroad program for the entire summer before my senior year. The reason why? I was afraid. I was afraid that I wasn’t growing enough and had become comfortable with the people and things I surrounded myself with. I needed to know and find out who I was outside of my comfort zone and felt that navigating another culture on the other side of the world was the best way to do so. I learned a lot those short three months like being independent, being brave, being the person I never knew I could be.
AIFS International Internship Program in London, England – Summer 2018