London Calling

One year ago, I realized London was calling me.  I had been attending study abroad informational meetings and receptions at the University of Florida and was seriously considering where I wanted to study.  In the end, it was London.  I have no regrets about my decision and can honestly say that the goals I set for myself have become a reality.  I have gained confidence in my ability to live far from home and navigate a major city and all the challenges it presents.  I have opened my mind to the possibilities of diverse cultures and the experiences they offer, and perhaps most importantly, I have shared my experiences with prospective and current FIE students in an effort to help them make their own decisions about travel, activities, and studying abroad.

Realistically, there were challenges and it wasn’t always easy.  I have two sisters and have shared a room with them, but living in one bedroom with 3 other girls with different personalities was difficult at times.  I arrived in London last and ended up on the only top bunk.  There were six of us in the flat and I became great friends with one of my flat mates and I would not trade that for anything.  At the midway point, I was assigned my internship and it was a brilliant match for me.  I would be working with a beach destination travel matching website in the startup phase.  The company was located in a shared workspace with other startups, designed to inspire creativity (we even had a putting green.)  At the three-week mark, the CEO informed me the company was shutting down and my internship was in jeopardy.  It was a terrible blow, as the team struggled to accept the inevitable.  It has managed to operate on a limited basis and will close this week.  In retrospect, that was an experience I would not want anyone to go through but it was a business decision, and as a business major it delivered a true message of realism.

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While I wasn’t too homesick, I think the most difficult time for me was learning that my family, living a couple of blocks from the ocean, was in the path of a category 4 hurricane.  I was able to stay in touch via text messages during the storm but I did not sleep that night.  When Hurricane Matthew hit Daytona Beach I was very worried.  Luckily they were all fine and suffered only minor damage; power was restored after a few days.  However, my parents tell me to be prepared for a changed landscape.  Our neighborhood lost many roofs, trees, and fences and the debris remains piled on the streets.  Some businesses were destroyed or remain closed.  A few days later my first nephew was born and I was so sad to miss that.  I can’t wait to meet and hold him.  Finally, as my four months here was coming to an end, I realized that I would not be celebrating Thanksgiving with my family for the first time.  My mom had given me money to book for dinner and about a week before I tried to do just that.  It was then that I realized just how many American ex-pats there are residing in London.  There was not a turkey dinner to be found at any restaurant because I didn’t book early enough.  Of course Thanksgiving is a purely American holiday, so in the end it was just another day here.  Those are the types of things that generate homesickness.  I don’t think FOMO, or fear of missing out was a big deal for me.  I even found a “Gators in London” group that meets for University of Florida football games in a local pub.  The fact that FIE offers so many activities, students are busy with courses and internships, and London is so vibrant, really keeps homesickness at bay.

In contrast, there have been many British traditions that I have experienced which img_6742Americans don’t celebrate and probably know very little about.  There was the commemoration of the Great London Fire that almost destroyed the city.  There was Bonfire Night celebrating the failed Gunpowder Plot led by Guy Fawkes and accompanied by fireworks.  And there was the special emphasis on Remembrance Day when the nation pauses to honor those who sacrificed their lives during the first Great War.  For several weeks, poppy pins had been sold across the city and wreaths adorned the war memorials.  There was a two-minute moment of silence during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in a very moving tradition.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I am studying here on a scholarship that is focused on diversity.  I had written in my application essay that I wanted to discover what it was like to live as a catholic in a country where there is a state religion.  I didn’t anticipate any problems and of course none arose.  The neighborhood church, Brompton Oratory, where I attend Mass is surprisingly enormous.  My own catholic church is a basilica and three would fit inside this grand church!

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As Christmas is rapidly approaching, I have enjoyed London in new ways.  The Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park is a spectacular mix of food, entertainment, ice-skating, a circus, and fabulous decorations.  I have shopped at Harrod’s, one of the most iconic department stores in the world.  And I got in one final visit to the amazing British Museum, home of the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, and the strange cat mummy.  My travel experiences were beyond my expectations, having planned them all after I arrived.  The trains and planes make Europe an affordable destination and even the nine trips I took doesn’t begin to cover all there is to see.

It has been an honor and a pleasure to blog about my FIE experience in London.  I have never done anything like this before and I hope that I conveyed in some small way what it is like to study with FIE.  Am I ready to go home?  Yes.  Would I do it all over again?  Absolutely.  Now it’s time to decide:  is London calling you?

Bidding you a final farewell,
Lizette

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