The day of my departure was the biggest mix of emotions possible. For months my brain somehow acknowledged that I would leave, but it simultaneously kept me from processing it fully. There is no way to prepare yourself for moving away, especially to a new country 4,000 miles away from anyone you know. It is incredibly exciting and freeing like a black hole in space, you have no idea what will follow or what you will experience inside except that it will be different and you will be entirely alone in a way you have never known. As someone incredibly shy like myself, the possibility of being a different, or fuller version of yourself, with nobody the wiser is fascinating. The draw of infinite possibilities makes study abroad alluring.
Funnily enough, my body was in full fight or flight mode which had begun to simmer down once I was settled in at my gate for the flight. That was until I received a message that my flight had been delayed nearly five hours, enough to make me miss my big flight to London. Completely alone with no idea how to fix such a costly and large issue the panic sets in and I begged the nearest United lady to help me. In some way, in some luck, she got me on a plane that would connect me to London. I had to run to the plane and watched my suitcase switch to a new plane with me. Adrenaline pumping, my family pulled over on the highway waiting to hear if I’d make a flight, I took off within 10 minutes of the redirected flight issue. If I hadn’t forced my family to drop me off nearly three hours early, I would have truly missed my flight. Still, my brain pushed and pushed at the fact I was moving to England.
The second I walked off the plane in London, I had to once again return to crazy mode, rushing to go through immigration, grab my bag (and pray it made it on the plane), get through customs and run to find the tube. I found the tube elevator and made it to my tube relatively easily. The tube ride was hotter than all get out because I somehow arrived in England on an uncharacteristically hot day. I made it to Holborn station and navigated the many staircases to reach the circle line, exhausted from carrying a huge suitcase, I watched the tube leave right as I got there. I cursed in my head knowing I was growing closer to missing my train to Norwich. The next tube arrived, and I ran on counting down the minutes I had left to find this train in London Liverpool Street Station, a train station larger than any I have ever seen. Again, out of pure luck, I saw that my train platform was straight ahead from the tube exit, after I managed my suitcase up another 50 flights of stairs of course. Unbelievably, I made it to my train with less than five minutes to spare. I now had two hours of relief until I arrived in Norwich.
When I arrived in Norwich, I found the nearest bus station and hopped on the next train, boiling hot in my Missouri sweatshirt, I watched the city of Norwich begin to reveal itself. Old buildings intertwining with new ones, streets connecting in strange ways, and various accents pouring into my ears. My eyes tried to take in it all, but I constantly felt like something escaped me. When I finally reached the University of East Anglia and my flat building, three more staircases laughed at me and my suitcase. Eventually, I fell right onto my bed, getting smacked by creaky bedsprings. I sat there for 30 minutes in silence, after almost 28 hours of traveling, I was finally in the room I had stared at on the computer for eight months. After unpacking, showering the layers of sweat off and attempting to make my room a little homier with pictures, the homesickness and realization hit me in a wave. Denial can’t exist anymore when you are lying in bed 4,000 miles away. The first night has been the hardest so far, the adrenaline wears off but the unfamiliarity sinks in.
The next morning, I picked up my COVID-19 test from the post room and spontaneously decided to make the trek to Norwich. The walk became an hour-long, three-mile hike, but the exercise was good for my body and brain. I made it to the Norwich market in time to grab a ham and cheese sandwich from the kindest lady who talked to me about how she left home at only 17. She reassured me that I would make it and to come back anytime to talk. She made me feel a lot better, and a lot less lonely.
After sitting in my room for most of the day Saturday, I decided to stop being a wimp and ask the exchange student group chat if anyone would like to go to dinner with me. All at once, everyone said they wanted to go; it was amazing. I somehow coordinated 13 people to a dinner. We had the French, the Norwegians, the Spaniards, the Swede and the American. We decided to get some drinks afterward and ended up in a small bar with nobody in it. We got to play our own music so of course they played “Party in the USA” for me, and I requested “Mr. Brightside.” It was an exhausting night but one that I will surely remember for the rest of my life.
Study abroad is full of amazing highs and lows, the highs are the happiest moments of your life, but the lows are the most isolating and consuming. The smallest things become what you appreciate most, like having a pillow to sleep on, a show to watch and the small conversation at Tesco. However, I still am adjusting to the fact that the English apparently don’t know the beauty of chips and queso. Oh cheap Tostino cheese dip, I miss you.