On today’s guest post, I’m super excited to feature my dear friend, Jaclyn Crawford. In high school, we played badminton, sang our favorite High School Musical songs at practice, attended bonfires and talked about our dreams. I remember Skyping her when she was studying abroad in 2012 and I thought, “She’s living on the other side of the world and doing cool things in Europe.” At that point, I also had big plans to leave the country for Japan. I asked Jaclyn to share her experiences from her time abroad in London and what made her the adventure seeker she is. Jaclyn writes:
I grew up with an affinity for all things British. I’d like to blame part of that influence on my Dad. He traveled there twice when he was a teenager and would share stories and photos on an old projector. My mom also pushed me to read old classics, most of the time set in old English. They started me young.
Fast forward to 16 years old. My grandma decided to let me tag along with her as she traveled to Paris and London. Yes, London. I had a dream fulfilled, and a new one set. I gained a newfound wanderlust I would never let go of. My priority became studying abroad in college and I was going to London. The first school I attended wouldn’t allow me to go, so I switched colleges and made my dream came true. Through an independent program called Interstudy, I was able to attend University of Westminster and spend a semester in the city of my dreams.
Today, I am about 4 years out from that life-changing experience. There isn’t a #TBT that goes by where I don’t think about it. Short of my wedding and honeymoon, it was one of the best times of my life. Though nostalgia tells me now that every day was perfection. There were many challenges I had to overcome and many things living in London taught me. Here are a few life-lessons I learned living abroad in England.
1. Living Without a Cell Phone Is Possible
I was issued a basic European cell phone upon arrival for use during the duration of my time. It was not a smart phone, but it had all the typical functions like texting or using an alarm. I had this phone for about 2 months before I lost it. Who knows where it went, but it definitely was not in my purse.
As you may know, living in London is no cheap task. I was living on grilled cheese and whatever else I could afford at the time. So I decided to ditch my phone for a few months, especially because I had to top up about every 10 texts. I know what you are thinking, is that even possible in this day and age? I’m here to report that it certainly is. I invested in a small alarm clock. Let friends know that if they needed me, I was available via Facebook and email only. I drew out maps and learned really quickly not to be shy to ask for directions. Sure, I got plenty lost and had to hope friends didn’t have to change a time when meeting up with me. But, I actually really enjoyed being phone-less.
Here we are a few years later, and I have my iPhone about 4 inches from me as I type this. But a few weeks ago, when my phone broke for a day. It wasn’t the end of the world. I put up a note alerting everyone I was no longer accessible via phone and drew out directions to the Apple store. I had pretty great training.
2. Embrace getting lost
So, now that you know the story about my phone. This will best explain why I very much so had to embrace the idea of getting lost. As much as I meticulously wrote down directions, it was inevitable that it would happen at some point. However, there is so much beauty to be found!
My favorite time I got lost was when I was headed towards Hever Castle. If you don’t know anything about Hever Castle, it is where the Boylen sisters grew up. And it is absolutely stunning, it tops my list of places to go and I highly recommend if you are ever traveling the UK. However, the journey there was almost as good as the castle visit. First, my travel buddies and I accidentally get off in Oxted. At first we, were bummed because then next train wasn’t coming for another two hours. However, we used this time to explore a small town we never would’ve check out otherwise. It turned out to be a great place to spend an early morning as we explored the small shops and cafes.
When we finally made it to the right train stop, it appeared our journey was not over. Sans technology, we relied on our two feet and road signs to point us in the right direction. Those signs took us completely off the beaten path, quite literally. We had to cross two sheep fields to get to the main road where the castle was. It was a journey I will never forget and always treasure. All because we chose to embrace getting lost. There is so much to see in this world that you may not know about if you don’t allow that for yourself every once and awhile.
3. You Probably Judge Yourself More than Others Judge You
One of my biggest fears upon arrival to London was everyone finding out that I was American. Sure, we spoke the same language, but the minute I open my mouth—my accent tells all. I was fully aware of the stereotypes others have on Americans—they’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they’re dumb, they are demanding, etc. I’ll admit, my personality does fit some of that (Don’t tell me I can’t get on this train, Sir! I’ll push my way through!) But I was hyper aware of so many things, I would judge myself and even try not to speak sometimes for fear of not fitting in.
I will back this up with a two-fold response. For the most part, I was wrong. There was one instance, however, where a gentleman in my Contemporary Literature class said “No offence, but you are a jerk,” for speaking up on freedom of speech. (#Merica)
However, majority of people I met were actually really didn’t care where I was from. Some got really excited and intrigued, but London is so diverse. Plenty of people I met were not even from England or the UK, so they were facing their own cultural differences. They asked questions about my life, but then again, so did I. I ended up making friends on the basis of just general commonalities and being in community with them.
I think this is true in life today. There is often times I go to a party or meet up with friends and I worry more about them judging my differences rather than getting to know me. Just to get the reminder I learned years ago, Im worse on myself than anyone will ever be.
4. Enjoy Where You Are
I feel like I am saying the opposite here on a travel blog, but follow me for just a second. I had so many friends study in London, simply so they could visit “cool” cities on the weekends like Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and more. Now, I have nothing against those cities. I am always up for visiting someplace new and I absolutely love Paris (I wouldn’t have an Eiffel Tower tattoo if I didn’t!) But, the U.K. is full of so many amazing things, I didn’t even have time to leave and I was confused at how other people did…and how their budgets allowed it! Yes, I did second guess my decision to stay within the U.K, but looking back—I wouldn’t have done anything differently, I have no regrets.
I visited SO MANY amazing cities, because most of them are just a train ride away. If you’re a city dweller like me, this was nothing. I made multiple trips to Bath, took a train to Gloucester for a day, and visited more castles than I could count on one hand. I made it to Ireland, Scotland, Wales as well… because how can you not? There are too many adventures to count for where I was able to go in the U.K, but every town I visited was different and had something new to share. From Bristol to Brighton to Oxford, my eyes were wide as I discovered new things about the culture and history.
Now, I live in the big ‘ol city of Chicago with my husband. We just bought our first home. But that in no way means we have settled down. This is a lesson I will forever cherish, there is always new things to explore right where you are. For us, that might mean going to visit a Frank Lloyd Wright house on the weekend, or like we’re doing next week, road-tripping to Mount Rushmore. Being “stuck” somewhere is only a state of mind if you only choose to see what is around you.
NEVER Stop Exploring.
Though, I have already mentioned it, living in London taught me so many life lessons about travel and culture. But if there is one thing London truly taught me, it was to never stop exploring and traveling. Some call this wanderlust, I just call it living. I’ve learned traveling and experiencing new cultures revives me and brings me energy. It opens my eyes to new things, it makes all my worry disappear. London may not have been the turning point for me here, but it did help me discover if I ever stop, if I ever “slow down,” I won’t be half of the person I could be.
Since my return in 2012, I have been to over 20 new cities in the U.S.A, Canada, Iceland, and planning a trip to Denmark for the summer of 2016. I have taken a train three times since, halfway across the country. I’ve taken a weekend to drive to the east coast, I have been stuck overnight on a Megabus trying to get home. I’ve never left even the worst travel experience regretting it. Traveling makes us do crazy things, but the memories are lifelong.
Living in another country is an experience I will always cherish. Sure, not every moment was perfect. There were a lot of hard times and many things to figure out. Sometimes I just wanted to go home and hug my family. Sometimes though, I’d walk through a sheep field and remember that it was a dream come true.
Life is an adventure. If you’re not traveling, you’re not taking advantage of it.