Or, how to be a less discombobulated American bumbling around London for the last fourteen days.
A friend back home asked if I was going to write about grad school on here, so here I am. Two weeks ago exactly, I landed in Heathrow Airport (after flying to Buffalo, JFK, and Keflavik International in Iceland), got my passport signed by a man who seemed kind of doubtful that I was old enough to have gotten a bachelor's degree already, and gratefully hopped into a taxi that I paid much too much for. My shoulders were permanently disfigured from my backpack and my eyelids wanted to play Close the Gates, but I made it to Camden where I discovered a room the size of a matchbox (expected) with a lot of black hair all over the place and a mysterious, glob-like stain on the floor near the sink (somewhat unexpected).
I, however, was going to positives. I realized I only had to share a kitchen and bathroom with three other grad students instead of a whole floor like I'd thought, even though I had no idea who those three people were. After checking in, I decorated my room by slapping up inspirational card prints from the bookstore I worked at this summer, and prints of famous Impressionist paintings. We had no class the first week, and it was really hard to not feel nervous or doubtful or sad.
Harder than study abroad, I mean, which consisted of merely three months at Nottingham University in 2015, a very charming area where I had emailed some people beforehand and later lucked out by having my entire flat filled with bubbly international students ready to take on the world.
This time, I had to gear myself up to leave for twelve months--a great deal longer than three. 3,615 miles and a five-hour time difference is a lot. Living in a place is a lot different than performing a short stint. And Camden--like a coat you buy at a thrift shop because it's cheap and retro--put me off at first. It's not the most photogenic area: on any given day the sidewalk can be littered with empty liquor bottles, trash, or even feminine hygiene products. I walk past three or four homeless people setting up shop on any given day, doing my forty-minute walk to campus. There's a lot of graffiti and police sirens all day, every day.
But there's also street art. Gorgeous street art, and Korean markets with bopping music where you can find the perfect sticky rice you used at home, and noodle houses, and coffee shops, and fancy/casual pubs, and really good sandwiches. And tea. I don't want to explain how much tea I'd brewed since coming here. It really is a cultural thing. And it's calming.
That first week, after figuring out where to buy food and surviving induction classes where they told us how to evacuate in case of fire and not to cheat and how libraries worked, I also met my suitemates, who are all incredibly nice and also new to the city (I really lucked out. They're golden). I visited Bath and Stonehenge. My first real "class" was a bus trip to Chichester where we visited the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. Again, I was startled at graduate school here. We have field trips almost every week, and we're encouraged to call professors by their first names, things that would never happen in the US.
I have class Tuesday and Thursday from 9AM to 6PM, which means I end up almost brain dead, but all of my 29 other Museum Studies Masters students are in the same boat. The work is incredibly interesting, too: I already got to handle a kohl pot from Ancient Egypt, we had a group meet-up at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Antiquities where we sat in the middle of the dimly lit exhibits and discussed the bust of Nefertiti, and I've even begun to learn how to actually manage a museum. I used to hate business models and things, but this really appeals to me.
I keep learning too--little things outside of class, in line at the store, getting my hair trimmed, everywhere. I learned that bangs are called "fringe" here, people my age happily call me "honey" or "lovely", my short hairstyle is NOT worn by women here AT ALL but it is championed by extremely well-dressed Asian boys, Singapore is a city-state, and that Japan apparently brews coffee where the heavy aftertaste immediately leaves the back of your mouth after you drink it (this I actually learned like an hour ago, at least that's how I can describe it. It's quite good, and doesn't taste acidic if you drink it straight). I learned that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is available on Netflix here and virtually every American I've run into is super stoked about it. I learned that University College London (my school) has mud bricks from Mesopotamia and I'm determined to touch them before I leave.
I learned that you can buy theater tickets to the Book of Mormon for only £22.50 and so I bought a third row seat and am going to see it this Wednesday. I'll probably be shaking in my seat. I learned that people dress in such high levels of aesthetic-pleasing fashion here that my mind is continually blown walking to and from class. I learned that there's also a five-story bookstore across the street from campus, and it's beautiful and I sense I'm going to lose some money there.
I learned that my class has a lot of wonderful people in it, and I cannot wait to get to know everyone better. There was a moment, this past Thursday, where a group of us grabbed coffee right before our Museum Management class. It was only about six of us and we'd broken up and found each other between a previous class and having that dim meeting in the Petrie Museum, and it was windy and we were all chatting and laughing and I realized I'd actually settled. I felt light, and happy. We were mostly foreigners, and we often had to tweak a word here or there or check a pronunciation on something because it was lilted with a British, American, Chilean, or Taiwanese accent, and we were only together because we wanted to learn how to make museums better.
It was a very good feeling.