Adjusting to British culture has been more difficult than anticipated. They say there's no language barrier here, but every time I ask for an Americano "to go," I get blank stares from the barista until I correct myself with "take-away." I also thought the "rocket" in my sandwiches was some foreign vegetable I'd never consumed before. Turns out it's arugula. And don't get me started about crossing the street. It took me a solid week to learn how to look both ways before crossing the street without having my life flash before me. You have no idea how big of an adjustment it was to learn to look over the opposite shoulder. I've actually perfected this head move that basically involves rapidly swiveling my head back and forth to reduce my blind spots. Now, I stride through the intersections of South Kensington with confidence that I look like a crazy person.
Going back to my pre-departure insecurities that now seem ever-so-distant, I'm glad I did my research. People really don't wear rain boots here and it really doesn't rain all day. And if it does rain, it's this on-and-off drizzle to downpour to mist transition, so if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes, because chances are the sun is coming out after that next cloud passes through.
I'm proud to say my time in London has only heightened my passion for the Royal Family, and more specifically, Kate Middleton. I've had the chance to visit Windsor Palace, the Queen's weekend home outside London, as well as Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, which is about a five minute walk from my flat on Queen's Gate. In Windsor, my friends and I found a phone booth with Kate painted on it. And then we ate at the Duchess of Cambridge pub. When I visited Westminster Abbey, I asked the folks in the gift shop which door Kate walked out of during the Royal Wedding, and then forced my friend to take photos of me walking out of that same door. It was really cool to see all of the royal sites that were in the spotlight during the Royal Wedding in real life. Freshman year, my friends and I woke up at 4 a.m. to watch the wedding live (complete with champagne and Royal Wedding donuts from Dunkin--my love for Wills and Kate runs deep), so it was surreal being able to walk in Kate's steps (literally) two and a half odd years later. Can't wait for she, Wills, and the baby to move into Kensington Palace after the christening in October. We're going to be neighbors!!!
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about being abroad is that "study" comes before it. As a student on the journalism internship program, I'm to complete five weeks of classes before a five-week travel break, and then eight weeks at an internship, with four days spent interning and four hours on my off day spent taking another class. I'm in the first phase of taking two classes, which constitute one four-hour bloc every Monday through Thursday. The journalism class focuses on British culture and society in the media. My favorite part thus far was a class trip to Canary Wharf, one of London's 32 boroughs (that's also the number of capsules on the London Eye--one for every borough), which was formerly dilapidated docklands that Margaret Thatcher revived in the '80s and turned into a major business district, complete with gleaming skyscrapers and heaps of men in business suits. We were simply told to find a story, write a 1,000-word feature on it, and let loose. I ended up finding this 30-year-old working man's diner housed in this old cannon refinery building built in the early 1800s by French prisoners of war behind the West India Import Docks, which were in use from 1802 to 1980. I'm excited about the finished product, to say the least.
A close second favorite to the Canary Wharf trip was our journalism class trip to the BBC Broadcasting House. The highlight of that trip was easily when we got to do a mock newscast. I volunteered to be the weather announcer as an homage to my heyday of weather reporting for Boston.com. I also managed to mispronounce every city name (since when is Edinburgh pronounced Edinborough?!) and did an awkward sort of dance before the end of the broadcast, but people laughed and I confirmed by beliefs that I should stick to staying behind the camera. Plus when it comes to my skills, the pen is always mightier. And the best part: I learned that my favorite font, Gill Sans, was created by Eric Gill, who was the key sculptor of the BBC's Broadcasting House in 1932.
To continue my passion for my al fresco education, I'm leaving today for Brussels with my political science class. The class is all about Britain's European identity and its integration with the European Union. Pro tip: Don't call British people European or say that England is in Europe. I learned they really don't like that. The British identity is very real--there's a reason they didn't adopt the Euro. See, mom and dad, I'm learning things! We'll be spending three days touring the capital of Europe, the EU, and sampling Belgian delicacies: frites, chocolate, waffles, and beer. You bet your bottom dollar I'll be paying a visit to Delirium Cafe, which offers 2,500 different beers, and sounds better than any café I've ever experienced.