Learning to love London is a work in progress

By Margaret Johnson

I think I’m supposed to tell you that these past three weeks have been the best of my life—that London is the most amazing place on Earth and that this experience is everything I imagined it to be. Well, I won’t tell you that. What I will tell you, though, is that the past three weeks have been the manifestation of not only the concept of culture shock, but also the notion of personal adjustment and that despite the difficulty of adaption, the challenge yields great benefits.

Perhaps it was naive to fall under the assumption that I would fall in love with the city of London. Listening to those around me who had been to London previously and looking through the picturesque brochures gave me the impression that the experience would be enamoring. But at the moment, I can very safely say I am not in love with the city of London. In fact, there are times where I most certainly hate it.

People are constantly bumping into me on the tube, in the museums and on the sidewalks. As there is no established correct side to walk on. I want to cross the street without having the threat of being hit by a car or pigeons flying dangerously close to my head. I want to buy food at the grocery store that won’t expire within two or three days. And I think I hate those moments because they were not supposed to make me miss home.

There’s a common misconception attributed to studying abroad, regardless of location: that studying in a foreign country is the equivalent of a long vacation. What is often misunderstood is that you still have an everyday life to live that involves schoolwork, grocery shopping frequently and cleaning your flat, as well as living with more than five people.

My daily routine is similar to my schedule back at Lawrence, but the means by which I carry out my routine has been uprooted and transferred to a culture that operates in unfamiliar ways.

The hardest part of being uprooted is not that your daily life and the means to fulfill it change, but instead that you don’t get to bring the best parts of your life with you. You don’t get to pack your best friend in a suitcase and bring him or her along with you. There’s no space for the school nurse when you get sick, there’s no Bon Appétit to feed you when all you have left is peanut butter and pasta noodles, and there’s no VR to hang out to see your closest friends and classmates. You don’t get to walk down the street and pass your best friends, professors or members of your extracurricular activities everyday.

The concept of “culture shock” often carries the sense that the feelings experienced abroad are akin to tidal waves that overwhelm you and cause you to yearn for the shore of your homeland. However, that has not been my experience.

The time I’ve spent in London has been kind of like being in one of those wave pools at a water-park—the constant waves acting as obstacles you have to jump over to avoid falling down. Initially, you can’t figure out the rhythm and you end up getting knocked down quite a few times, but once you become in sync with the waves, you enjoy yourself. And that’s what London is—a place with ever-changing rhythms that need both cultural and personal adaption in order to jump over the obstacles.

While my relationship with London ebbs and flows, I have come to recognize that I did not apply to study aboard with the hopes of falling in love with another place.

I applied because I wanted to grow in my independence and maturity. I applied to challenge my comfort zone and push myself to have experiences that may be intimidating, yet worthwhile. I wanted to force myself to rely on my own resources, ideas and knowledge to resolve any conflicts that I may encounter—to entrust myself wholly and be secure in my abilities.

Although absolute certainty has been hard to come by these past weeks, I am absolutely certain that London will be the experience I wanted—an experience that will provide me the privilege and opportunity to grow intellectually, emotionally, socially and culturally as an independent individual in an increasingly interconnected world.

London is more than a privilege to experience the multifaceted culture of the city and appreciation into avenues of history, art, entertainment, politics and knowledge. London offers a series of challenges. And it is the challenges that London puts in your way that incite a boldness and utter invincibility within the self that is present among Londoners as a whole. I want that type of confidence. And in 10 weeks, I know I’ll have it.