Yes, another study abroad post… sorry! When I began this semester abroad adventure it was my third visit to the incredible city. I loved everything about it; from the architecture, culture, parks, and nightlife, to the sense of community everywhere you go. I already knew I would have an amazing time, but didn't realize the impact this would have on my life.
The first time I went to London was on a summer family vacation. I was 17 at the time. This was my first time in Europe. We went to London and Paris and spent about three days in both lovely capitols. We stayed in a flat in Knightsbridge, a posh residential area in Kensington. I loved the general aesthetic and how busy the city was. I got a glance at the culture and of course saw the sights–Buckingham Palace, Tate Modern, Big Ben, London Eye, etc.
The second time I went to London was when I visited my best friend who was spending her freshman year in college at FSU's London campus. I was 18 and it was the winter break of my senior year of high school. We shared a hotel room in Palace Green, another area of Kensington. This was the first time I got to experience the nightlife in London. I did also do a few other touristy things. We went to the Shard, Kensington Palace, Tower Bridge, and fed the ducks in Hyde Park. I also got to check out some of the Christmas markets that were still open. And finally, we rang in the new year by watching fireworks at Trafalgar Square. At this point in time, this was the most freedom I'd ever had.
And of course, I spent the spring semester of my sophomore year in college studying abroad in this city that I hold so near and dear to my heart. I attended Richmond, the American University in London. Which is in Richmond, London. I fell in love with this gorgeous borough, which is now my favorite out of all 32. Richmond gives you the REAL London experience. I made many friends, both through the school and locals. There's plenty of things to do; cute shops, great restaurants, nice bars, and, it's home to Richmond Park–the largest Royal Park in London. Also, located a 2-minute walk away from my school, is one of the best views of the Thames.
I did so many amazing things over these four months (which definitely weren't long enough) so I can't name them all, but I'll share a few. I went to many museums; the National History Museum, the Freud Museum, the Wellcome Collection, and the Victoria and Albert Museum are a few of my favorites. I also got outdoors and saw beautiful gardens. I'm obviously partial to Terrace Gardens and Terrace Field in Richmond Park, but I also explored other green areas such as Kew Gardens and the Sky Garden. I Found cute cafés such as The English Rose, EL&N café, The Hollyhock Café, and the amazing cat café–Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium. Being the largest city in western Europe, London is also home to world-famous restaurants. Endless varieties of authentic Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian were among my go-tos. Being a college or, "Uni" student as the Brits say, I had many great nights enjoying the London nightlife. From weekly pub quizzes at The Lass O' Richmond, to themed nightclubs and bars (Tonight Josephine, The Toy Shop, Tropicana Beach Club) in central London, there was always something to do.
When Spring Break arrived, I decided to fly to Italy with a classmate and then take the train into Switzerland. In Italy, I enjoyed the incredible food and wine while recognizing the influence of different values within the Italian culture. Pertaining to this experience, I began to recognize ways in which my own moral values had been influenced. But traveling alone in Switzerland was an incredibly liberating experience and is a highlight of my time abroad. I spent my days exploring along the banks of Montreux, yet constantly found myself getting lost in the beauty of Lake Geneva and the surrounding Alps. My three years of high school French came in handy and I was able to interact with the locals easily and enjoyed doing so. Also simply taking the train through the Alps was an incredible experience. Eventually, I did get a little homesick for my home on the hill in Richmond.
In London, I had a fresh start and didn't know anyone. This gave me the motivation to strive. Nothing held me back. I took risks. I gained confidence and independence. I learned and grew. I was a part of something much bigger than myself yet, still was able to find out more about, and stay true to, who I really am. That reserved, apprehensive, and inhibited little girl left for London in January, and didn't return.
This is why I love London.