This is a rather obvious or even odd title, but it is the single greatest lesson to come out of my study abroad experience.
Once upon a time, I moved to the U.S. from a tiny island in the Caribbean, Jamaica. I had been before, but this time I would be living here, so my world got a little bigger. When I got to college, I can attest to having a theoretical knowledge of the world and my place in it, but it wasn’t until I went to London that I was immersed in global culture. But this is only background.
Quickly moving on. A companion of mine took this photograph at the White Cliffs of Dover, a beautiful strip at the southern edge of England and I shall recount the events surrounding this photograph because it sums up my entire experience studying abroad.
The trip was shrouded in some mystery, though I suspect that the Global Affairs office submitted my email to a travel club. Nevertheless, I wanted to go and so I bought a ticket. I invited a friend to join me, and thankfully she agreed. On the morning of the trip I woke up very early, got on the Tube (London’s subway), and went to Russell Square. Not seeing any sign of a coach, I wandered around for a bit, very uneasily, but I was optimistic that it would turn out alright. The coach finally showed up after a long ten minutes in the strange cold of mid-April London. I called my friend, and she emerged from a coffeeshop across the square.
The drive was two hours, and the weather was spotty and overcast. When we arrived, the sky began playing games with us, leaving everyone bewildered at what it would do next. Off the coach, it began to rain, rain turned to ice and snow, which turned to a sunny day at the coast, and everyone began stripping off layers and basking in the rays. This was short-lived, as the next half mile brought brutal wind and hail, that flicked you on the cheeks as it passed. Finally, at the lighthouse the wind eased, and we got ice-cream. On the journey back, the wind picked up once again but was at our backs, which pushed us forward. Once it got sunny, it stayed that way until we got to the coach.
So, you may or may not be wondering how this ties back to the lesson and the title. I admit that it is all a metaphor. As the title and the story suggest, London taught me how to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. The change of clothes is a change in attitude, or mindset, which should remain flexible if you want to make the most of your time abroad. I had a few hiccups that were easily resolved; the biggest hiccup was when my laptop stopped working two months into a five-month term and I had to go to the library almost daily to complete my papers. This road bump ended up teaching me how not to procrastinate when I returned to the U.S., so I am very thankful for it.
I actually went to Dover and Canterbury (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) in the midst of all this, and it gave me perspective. As I gazed out over the water, I began to feel the immensity of the world and all the new experiences I would take home with me. All the little trifles became distant, and I took them as necessities in learning how to do life. My time was very unexpected, but it yielded some fabulous experiences and acquaintances.
Since I am at the end of my story, I encourage you to treat the world as an opportunity for discovery, because it will take you on some surprising journeys if you remember that it may turn out rather unexpectedly.
P.S. When in England, stay comfortable and wear layers.