Monday, December 10, 2012

The Chance of a Lifetime

The chance of a lifetime. It sounds like such a cliche. But its just so fitting that I can't help but use it.

The chance of a lifetime. Highlight of my year. Dream come true. I don't think I truly understood these phrases until I came here. My time abroad has been all of these things and more. And I am grateful every day that I took the leap to come here.

I have been able to do and see things that always just seemed like an impossible (or rather improbable) dream. If you told me two years ago that I'd be travelling all around England, taking overnight buses to Paris and spending my birthday in Spain (more on these two trips soon!) I wouldn't have believed you. But sitting here today I can tell you I've done what I thought I'd never do. And that's amazing to me.

And through my time here, I've come to realize quite a few things about myself, about life and about the world. Studying abroad effects so much more than just the here and now. It effects the way you live your life moving forward as well the way you see the world in so many ways.

Normal life carries on, even when abroad. Annoying things happen to all of us in everyday life--we have work to do, and responsibilities to live up to--and we accept it and move on. I've had great nightsexciting experiences and hung out just like I would at home, but I've also had not so great days.  And when they do happen, they seem so much worse because they're happening here. "This isn't supposed to happen during my amazing semester abroad," I can't help but think when bad things happen. But that's just it. It is. Life didn't just freeze when I came here. I'm living here for four months. Key word: living. So matters of everyday life will come up while abroad because this isn't a vacation, it's life. When you go on vacation you really want everything to go right for you. You don't want to have trouble with anything and you want things to run smoothly. But here I'm going to class, living my life not as a tourist but as a temporary resident. My time here has been amazing, but not everything is super fun, all the time. I've come to realize that some days are just lay in bed and watch Netflix kind of days. And that's okay.

It's okay to be disappointed by trips or experiences.  When I got to England and first started blogging, I was afraid to admit when something disappointed me. As I read through posts on my personal blog that I wrote about our heritage trips when I first arrived, I am amazed with how different the blog reads from the way that I actually perceived the trip. Take Stonehenge for example. This landmark disappointed me beyond belief. As I walked up to those amazing rocks I felt nothing. It wasn't special to me. As I look at the postcard I bought there, I feel I get the same thing out of looking at a picture of Stonehenge that I did by seeing it in person. This isn't what my blog post said. I think I was afraid that if I said something wasn't amazing that my entire trip would be unamazing. And this isn't true. I was so stuck on the fact that I needed to paint a picture of absolute marvel about every sight I saw, or else people would think I was being ungrateful. But not particularly enjoying Stonehenge isn't about being ungrateful. I was grateful that we were taken there because it's just one of those things you do when you go to England and now I can say I've seen it. Admitting that Stonehenge didn't thrill me isn't about being ungrateful, it's about being real. And along those lines, blogging isn't about painting the picture that you think your friends back home want to see, it's about telling it like it is. And I believe that as my blog as evolved, I have allowed myself to be more honest in my description of trips and events. While I still have some trouble accepting that I didn't enjoy something as much as I thought I would (especially if it cost money) I have come to understand that disappointment isn't something that you can avoid while travelling. It's something you'll run into no matter where your travels take you. And accepting that is the first step to moving on and thinking instead about what you did enjoy.

I could never be a world traveler. For as long as I can remember, when people have asked me about my hobbies, I have always included Travel on that list. My semester abroad in England has made me realize that I don't quite like travel as much as I thought I did. I've enjoyed our day trips, and I already know that I enjoy week long vacations, but our weekend trips haven't invigorated me to travel (although my recent trip to Barcelona was absolutely amazing, possibly because it was three nights long and allowed us to sit, rest a bit and just soak in the beautiful city a bit more than other trips). That's not to say that I didn't enjoy myself, or that I regret going because I did and I don't, but I just don't think that whirlwind weekends in different cities are for me. I'm a much slower paced person, and the go-go-go of a fast paced trip to another country exhausts me more than it excites me. So I don't think I could call myself a travel enthusiast because to say you really enjoy travel I think you need to be energized by it. I'm glad that I've had this opportunity to see different parts of Europe, but I think that if I come back to Europe later in my life I would prefer to stay in one city for a week or so for a slower paced vacation.

There's always more to see. Confession time: When I made plans to study abroad in Oxford, although I knew that I wanted to be in England as my hub, I was most excited about going to see other countries. But I will say now that I've been here for a while that the time I've spent travelling around England has been a highlight of my trip. Purchasing the BritRail pass was the second best decision I've made about studying abroad, the first being studying here. Because we had eight days of train travel with the BritRail, we were able to see places that we probably never would have gone (and we got to ride on trains, which I love.) Would we have been able to enjoy the sweetness of Cadbury World or seen the awesome looking buildings of Winchester had we not purchased the BritRail pass? Probably not. I've really gotten to see England, and there is so much more to do than you can even imagine. I know this sounds like a pointless platitude, but it's true. Once I started looking at different places to visit with our passes I realized there is so much more than the normal British tourist attractions.

When it's time to enter the "real world" I'll be ready. I will be the first to admit that High Point spoils its students in terms of accommodation--food you can't complain about, free laundry and very nice dorm rooms. I've been worried recently that once I graduate and get my own place, that I'd be unable to adapt to the normal annoyances of the "real world" but my time in Oxford has calmed my fears. I've never been much of a cook, but in order to save money, we have been having a lot of dinners at home. We each cook once a week and I've learned how to budget for meals and make balanced meals for the four of us. I've become a lot more independent while here, not having to rely on my parents to go to the grocery store or even a car to get around. My computer recently broke and I've had to deal with the aftermath of that--taking it to an Apple store, getting into contact wit  a Mac technician to determine the problem and securing a laptop to use for the rest of the semester--with minimal help from my parents because they're not here to help. They've been working on it in terms of what to do once I get home, but I've had to deal with it in terms of the here and now, and I think I've done a good job. Going along with this idea of independence  I've also learn that I can plan trips, book tickets, find train times and get myself around a foreign city without the help of my parents. Because any other time I've really traveled has been with my parents, after our first trip I was pretty proud of myself for pretty much getting back in one piece.The most valuable thing I've learned while studying abroad is that I am capable of taking care of myself and supporting myself and I know that I won't drown when I enter the "real world".

I could see myself living here. When I first came here, I loved it instantly, but I kept saying that I could never live here. I loved everything about being here--the people, the city, the sayings, the experience--but I had closed off my mind about someday living here for one simple reason: because I hate standing out. I felt like the minute that I opened by mouth, everyone knew I didn't belong here, and that makes me extremely uncomfortable. Whenever I contributed in class, I felt like everyone turned around to see who had the unfamiliar accent and for some reason I convinced myself that this means I could never live here full time. After being here for over three months, however, I've realized something important: "Who cares?" Being different isn't something to be ashamed or afraid of. The British people I've gotten to know here are intrigued by the fact that I am American (a concept I find difficult to grasp) and I've come to realize that the fact that I speak with a different accent shouldn't stop me from talking. And really, although I believe my accent is here to stay, if I were to live in England, I would begin adopting inflections, phrases and the knowledge and in time people wouldn't think I was a perpetual tourist. I would become a part of the community I lived in, and an accent doesn't stop that. I don't really know if I would ever actually move out of America to live in England for a few years; I don't think I'm actually enough of a risk taker for that, but I could definitely see myself living here for an extended period of time. And I think that even the acceptance of that idea means that I've come a long way from when I first arrived.

It will be hard to leave. Four months is a long time. Or so I thought before I came here. I figured that by the time it was time to leave, that I'd be ready. That I'd be counting down the days until I had a break and got to see my family again. I thought I'd want to leave. But I don't really. I mean, I do want to see my family and my friends and I am anxious to get back to HPU but at the same time, I wish time could freeze. I wish I could have a little more time to soak in the experience of being in England. I wish I could see more, do more, experience more. I wish my time in Great Britain didn't have to end.  Because I feel like I just got here, like I just found my bearings. I just stopped staying "french fries" and I've finally stopped translating everything into dollars in my mind. I know what places I like, I know where to shop, and I know how to navigate the city centre. I've finally felt like an actual member of the Oxford community. I finally feel like more than just a tourist.  I'm just getting started here in England, and I feel like a concerto abruptly stopped in the middle by the conductor. What would have come next? How does it resolve? What beauty are we missing out on? I guess we'll never know.

But what we do know, I suppose, is that the beginning was beautiful and amazing and something never to be forgotten. And in the end, that's what we need to hold onto. Not the "would'ves" or the "could'ves" but the memories and the experiences. And England has certainly given me a lot of those.

-Amy x

P.S. Don't worry, this doesn't mean the end of my blog. Keep checking back until the end of next week (and possibly beyond) to continue reading about my adventures.

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