I have always considered myself brave. Yet in the days leading up to the trip, even the most fearless person in the world would have been apprehensive.
This trip would take me outside of the United States for the first time. While packing my belongings, it was important to remember I had traveled from one state to another many times. It only did so much to put me at ease.
My trip was a month-long study abroad in the United Kingdom. My excitement was compounded because I was the recipient of a $5,000 Gilman Scholarship, a national scholarship available to all students who qualify for the Pell Grant.
An explosion of excitement and nerves could not be controlled upon finding out.
The scholarship meant funding my trip was no longer a worry, but also made me feel an increased urge to prove myself as worthy of the investment.
I planned on doing so by writing about my experience overseas and sharing it with the world.
Although England was my ultimate destination, my trip started three weeks before the study abroad program began in order to pay a visit to my aunt and uncle in Wisconsin.
It felt as if my heart would burst out of my chest while boarding the first plane. The north was a familiar destination to me, but this visit marked the start of what would be two months away from home.
My aunt and uncle are seasoned travelers, and my uncle is an experienced photographer. He helped me choose a camera to use to document my trip, but that was not the limit of his involvement.
He and my aunt offered advice throughout the duration of my visit. With each new warning, my anxiety grew alongside my preparedness
One of the first things they did was buy me a radio-frequency identification case.
It is a small cloth case that goes around my neck and holds my passport, credit cards, ID, and money. It is ideally worn under a shirt so nothing could be stolen at the airport.
They also helped me buy locks for my luggage, special bags for anything likely to spill, square bags to help pack my clothes more efficiently, a scale to weigh my luggage, and snacks for the flight. My aunt put extra emphasis on the snacks.
Airplane food is expensive and there were several long flights ahead of me, longer still when time in the airport was taken into consideration.
The plan was to spend five days in Los Angeles following two weeks in Wisconsin. Because my flight left at seven in the morning, my aunt, uncle, and I woke up at three in the morning to get me to the airport.
They came with me to the departure gate, where my uncle gave me some spending money for Europe, one last warning about thieves, and told me my passport would get me through security faster than my state ID, even when flying domestically.
My time with them was coming to an end, and my sadness kept me from feeling truly scared or excited. However, those feelings would soon make a resurgence.
Security at the Milwaukee airport was a breeze as my uncle was right, the passport did get me through faster.
Upon landing at the Los Angeles International Airport, the decision to bring two full suitcases with me was a regretful one, even more so when the realization of four more flights still ahead of me hit.
Five days in Los Angeles passed by quickly. It was spent with my older brother as we wandered along the boardwalk of Venice Beach.
When it came time for me to depart on my flight for England, the aforementioned anxiety or excitement was in full force.
The time in the airport was spent on high alert, terrified of making a mistake which would make everything go horribly wrong.
Nevertheless, twenty hours later, I landed in London Heathrow.
It was immediately apparent traveling internationally was a very different beast than traveling within the United States.
For one thing, my phone did not work. There was no other option than to flounder around without wifi for nearly a week before finally getting my hands on a sim card.
However, the task at hand became trying to conquer the monstrosity known as the Heathrow airport.
Getting through customs was easier than expected as the entire security process went off without a hitch.
My first challenge came when trying to exit customs. It was difficult to not get lost, it took a solid ten minutes of wandering around before an exit presented itself.
From there, it was on to the hotel.
Confusion around the transport system resulted in me waiting an hour for the shuttle, only to be left behind when the driver grew impatient with the group of confused tourists I had been shuffled in with.
Ultimately, a taxi took me to my hotel.
When we pulled up at the Hotel Ibis, the expectation was to receive a hefty bill, similar to what could be found in America.
Instead, I was only charged twenty pounds, or about twenty three dollars and eighty cents with that day’s exchange rate.
It was my first glorious taste of the price difference between America and the United Kingdom.
It was disappointing to discover the pound was stronger than the dollar. It felt like I was losing money.
Exchange rates fluctuated significantly over the course of my visit, but it was always such that a dollar would be exchanged for less than a pound.
However, my time in England quickly taught me that an English pound goes much further than an American dollar.
It was one example in a series of similar exchanges.
The hotel only had a shower, which would normally be fine if taking a bath did not sound so fantastic. Conversely, the opportunity to experience an authentic British breakfast sent me over the moon.
After three days at the Hotel Ibis, it was time to haul my luggage back to the airport to meet up with the rest of my study abroad group.
It was something of an embarrassing affair for me as most of my classmates had only one large suitcase, two middling-sized ones, or one large case and a small one.
My set of luggage consisted of two large cases, a carry-on, and my backpack.
The worst of them was one of the teachers, a stoic man named Craig Jacobsen. He possessed a single small suitcase, a little bigger than a briefcase, that could hold no more than a couple of changes of outfits.
As my excessive luggage was hauled onto the bus, he proudly shared his entire wardrobe consisting of black shirts and black jeans. His goal when traveling was to always pack less than he had the first time.
I swore to never overpack again right then and there.
My class took a coach ride of roughly two hours to our home base in Nottingham, England. We were free to do what we wanted after we got settled in the apartments of Cleaves Hall where we would be staying for the next month.
Many of my classmates chose to go out and party. The traveling had worn me down and drained too much energy for me to participate. Truth be told, there are not many memories from the first day considering how exhausting it was.
I explored the apartments, joined a group of students for dinner, and went to bed early. Sleep turned out to be a fool’s errand, as students kept coming and going all night long.
That was the way of things for the next few nights as my classmates settled down and got used to the heavy doors of Cleaves Hall.
The first few days in Nottingham were a peculiar combination of exciting and subdued. They were marked by mandatory seminars explaining the coursework and excursions we would be going on, a tour of the city, and lessons on Nottingham’s history.
The amount of references to Robinhood in my first days there were more than the rest of my life combined.
Yet it was not the city’s mythology that drew me in. Instead, the convenience and culture of Nottingham captivated me.
It quickly proved itself to be a very walkable city, boasting cuisines from nearly every culture you could think of.
Over the course of my month in Nottingham, I ate lovely British breakfasts, enchanting fish and chips, flavorful Indian curries, authentic Korean barbecue, and falafel sandwiches that became an indescribable experience when eaten at eleven thirty at night.
The White Rabbit cafe was the perfect spot for afternoon tea with a new friend before partaking in local festivities, such as the weekly ghost walk and a festival which rolled into town.
Humans are creatures of habit though, including myself.
The Barista Lab coffee shop was my go-to, so often in fact the barista knew me by name. Bird’s Bakery also became a staple of my days, as it became a common spot for breakfast.
Any shame about my habits was quelled by the knowledge that my classmates were developing habits of their own.
One duo visited Nando’s over five times over the course of the trip. Another girl ordered Wingstop so many times she received frequent customer deals.
In the chaos and excitement of being surrounded by a completely new environment, those habits brought us a necessary degree of comfort.
Our first excursion was a trip to London. The mandatory portion of the excursion was only a day trip. However, since the excursion was on a Friday before a free weekend, London became home for the entire weekend.
Some of my time in the city was structured as on the first day, my class rode a boat down the River Thames and visited Westminster Abbey.
The second day saw several of my classmates return to London to watch a spectacular performance of King Lear in the Globe Theatre. We stood in the pit and crowded around the stage to watch under the glare of the hot sun.
Only four study abroad participants chose to stay for the entire performance, the rest of my group got tired and left during intermission.
By the end of the show, the sunburns and fatigue were well worth the decision.
The rest of my time in London was up to me to utilize. Craig ended up spending the weekend in the same hotel as me, so we spent a good deal of time together.
We visited several restaurants, went to the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garden, and visited a local market.
My time alone was spent touring Warner Bros. Studios, exploring Borough Market, and visiting The Clink Prison Museum.
Our second excursion was meant to be a trip to Brighton. That plan was firmly foiled by stormy weather over the coastal city.
The trip’s director, Mary Aldridge, pushed back the trip to Brighton and arranged for us to tour Nottingham castle instead.
We spent time wandering around the castle walls before being brought down to see the caves beneath. It was a day of history and culture.
Some chaos did erupt when the tour ended and some students were left wondering if they were allowed to leave.
Having taken matters into my own hands and left to get lunch the moment hunger began setting in, I experienced a moment of panic when our group discord began to fill with confused messages. It was a relief to learn that we were allowed to leave whenever we were ready.
Chatsworth House was our next excursion. The castle-like house was primarily known for housing members of the British monarchy and being a filming site for movies such as, “Pride and Prejudice.”
Someone more interested in the British monarchy would have gotten more out of the trip, as it was doubtlessly the least exciting excursion for me.
The lush scenery of the gardens was still enjoyable thanks to the rich, locally-made ice cream they sold and the massive collection of artworks and antiquities within the house itself.
We got our excursion to Brighton the next week. The first half of the trip was dedicated to a bus tour of the city and a visit to the Royal Pavilion.
My eyes began to glaze over after about half an hour submerged in the history of a family of very little interest to me.
The artworks within the house were so intricate that it would have taken hours to take photos of all the small details.
At one point, I laid down on the floor of a grand sitting room and used that angle to take photos of the chandeliers, ceiling, and walls.
The second half of our visit to Brighton was free time. Two other students and I walked down to the pier, and the day ended with us being exhausted and thoroughly delighted.
A long weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland was next on the agenda.
The train ride there was without a doubt the worst travel experience during my entire time abroad.
My seat was across from a group of hyper, young children whose parents were content to let them scream and shout throughout the hours-long trip.
Nearly everyone in the group had something to say about it when the ride finally ended. However, ten trains full of screaming children would be worth exchanging for what I experienced in Scotland.
The first day exploring was spent in Edinburgh with Angie and Estefany.
We saw a bagpipe player and got lunch before heading back to the hostel. Our group then went on a delightfully funny and informative tour of Real Mary King’s Close.
The next day, we went on a tour of Holyrood Palace.
It was there that I got separated from the group and missed the bus to the museum of Scotland. A hike of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano a few miles away from the museum, was how I passed my sudden excessive free time.
The next morning, there was a tour of the Scottish Highlands which ran from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m..
It was one of the single most enchanting experiences of my life.
Not many other students were excited to see Stonehenge.
There was little for us to do after we had seen the site itself and visited the associated gift shop, for it was in what Mary affectionately referred to as, “the middle of nowhere.”
Seeing a historical landmark as famous as Stonehenge filled me with childish glee. It also made me eager to test my photography skills. Some of my best photos were taken there.
My spirits were high when we climbed into the coach back to Nottingham after about three hours, marking the end of our shortest excursion.
The excursion to York lasted a full day, and we were required to visit York Minster.
After collecting what was necessary, we had a scheduled visit to the Jorvik Viking center.
It was a creative, entertaining experience, but not the highlight of my trip to York. That honor went to the simple experience of wandering around the streets.
An outdoor market had a variety of bright, unique, colorful shops ranging from a fudge shop to a place which exclusively sold cat memorabilia.
Our final excursion was to Matlock, the birthplace of the industrial revolution. We visited Cromford Mill and learned about Richard Arkwright, who created the world’s first factory.
Once we were let loose to explore Matlock, there was actually not much for me to do besides wander around aimlessly. It did not work out as well for me as wandering around York did.
A festival was in the works, which was fun at first, but the walk turned out to be quite far and made me dehydrated and hungry.
Persistence paid off and, eventually, a quaint little cafe was my choice for some squash soup and a berry scone.
My final days in Nottingham were spent hanging out with friends and visiting the places I had grown fond of.
My return to America grew more dreadful by the minute.
Despite traveling for nearly two months, it was all ending too soon. Alas, all things come to an end.
My flight back to America was three days after the program ended.
The intervening days were spent in a hostel in London, where I wrote, explored the immediate area, and savored my final days in a country other than my own.
Flying back from England was both easier and harder than my outgoing flight had been.
On one hand, there was far less anxiety than my first international flight. On the other, it took over two hours to get through security at Heathrow.
It had never taken more than fifteen minutes to get through security before, and the flight itself was long too.
I had fallen asleep on the flight to England, but stayed awake for the entire flight home. The time was spent watching two in-flight movies and getting over three thousand words of writing done on my phone.
It was a grueling experience.
Six days were spent in a hostel on Santa Monica beach before returning to Phoenix.
Many people are happy to return home after a long trip, but it felt bittersweet.
It hurt to have my adventure come to an end. However, my experiences abroad confirmed to me a career that allows me to write and travel would be my goal. The past two months were my first real taste of my future.
Traveling was over for the time being, now it was time to write.
Charis Hayward started writing when she was ten and has been practicing ever since. She is now a full-time journalism student with hopes of publishing a novel and traveling the world.
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