Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with everything European: the accents, the royalty, the landmarks. One of my lifelong dreams has always been to travel to England and spend some time in London. This past summer, I was given the opportunity to do just that, and to get some college credit while I was at it. I was excited about the chance to see the world, and maybe make some new friends along the way.
I was nervous about experiencing everything all on my own.
Originally, one of my best friends was supposed to come with me, seeing as she was the one who told me about the program at the end of freshman year. Because the trip was such a large investment–nearly $5,000, not including the flight, meals, and other expenses–she ended up dropping out of the trip. While I was quite nervous and afraid to experience everything on my own, I knew it would benefit me in the end, because it would push me out of my comfort zone and force me to do things for myself, as well as forge new friendships.
I found a list of other people on the trip and was able to find their various social media pages.
After signing up and being accepted to the program, I found a tentative list of who else would be going on the trip. Because I didn't recognize any names and being myself, I attempted to cyber-stalk the various names on the list, trying to decide if I should reach out to anyone else going. I found a few social media pages, but I felt awkward messaging anyone. One day, I found one of the girls' Facebooks, and looking at her photos at the top of her page, saw we had a friend in common. In fact, she was best friends with a friend of mine I knew from my high school, so I texted her to see if she would be willing to meet up before the trip. Luckily, she was more than happy to meet up and talk about the program, she even texted me the information for the flight she and her friend–another girl on the trip–were taking so I could join.
I applied for scholarships to try and make the trip more affordable.
While going through the process, I applied for four scholarships: one being the Purdue Moves scholarship of $1,000, one was through Krannert, and the other two were offered through the Foundation for International Education, which was offering the program we were going on. Out of these four I received three, amounting in $3,500 to go towards the trip, for which I am eternally grateful.
A few months passed by and before you knew it we were in London.
Fast forward a few months, and we set out for Europe from Chicago. Megan, Anna, and I arrived at Heathrow in the early morning, then went to settle in at our flat before doing a little exploring with some of the other Purdue students we would be living with. That night, we had our welcome meeting and were soon off to bed because we were exhausted from our flight. The next morning, we set out! We explored and walked all over town, amounting to a whopping 13.2 miles, according to my watch. We started in Kensington Gardens–which was right down the street from where we were living, might I add–and explored that area, seeing the Palace as well as various monuments. We found ourselves near Buckingham Palace, then walked down the iconic Mall to Trafalgar Square, followed by Big Ben, the London Eye at the River Thames, and so much more. It was only the second day and we had already at least glanced at some of the most iconic landmarks in the city.
I made life long friendships that I will forever cherish.
As our month-long trip went on, the three of us became very close. We spent all of our time together and even made friends with some of the others on the trip. Of course, during the day, we went to class or went on field trips, but after class was over, we had free time to spend however we wanted. We explored all of central London, both on foot and the Underground. One weekend we went to Switzerland (casual, right?) and another Anna and I explored Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge on a bus tour. We went to Buckingham Palace (like 6 times), Brighton Beach, the Tower Bridge, multiple cathedrals, and saw Big Ben–even though it is entirely covered in scaffolding. We rode the London Eye, regardless of the fact that none of the three of us were a fan of heights. For my birthday, we went to an ice bar where you had to wear a parka and gloves, because not only was the room as cold as a freezer, it was made of ice! Even our glasses were large ice cubes with a deep hole in the center! We took pictures everywhere we went, and each of us kept a journal, even though we often forgot to write in them. Our little group had movie nights, played cards, went for gelato or crepes, and overall had the time of our lives together. The last Wednesday, my aunt and uncle and cousins were actually in London on vacation, so we met up for dinner, which was a truly incredible experience.
Megan (L), Anna (R), and I on the London Eye over the River Thames Emily Hendricks
I did not want to leave at the end of our trip.
Towards the end of the month, I was so sad to leave. I was nervous for our finals, and I knew I would miss the place that I had called home for the past few weeks, even though I was already missing Indiana and my family and friends. While it was definitely a challenge being away from home for so long, left to my own devices, and thrust into a place similar but still very different from home, I had learned so much. About the European Union and marketing–the topics of my classes–about the people I lived with, and most importantly, about myself. I knew I was independent, but I didn't realize to what extent. I knew I loved to travel, but I could finally explain why. I felt free. If you ever get the opportunity to study abroad, or even just to travel, I encourage you to take it, because it will be the best thing you ever experience. Explore a new place and find joy in it, but most importantly, find yourself.