I Studied Abroad In London, And The Lessons I Learned Were From The Heart

I Studied Abroad In London, And The Lessons I Learned Were From The Heart

It's a city that I will definitely return to as it's a new home to me because home is where the heart is and London for sure has a portion of it.

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Traveling to a new country can be an exciting yet scary experience. I just went abroad for the first time to London to study dance which isn't what some hardcore travelers consider "abroad" but to me, it was a new adventure.

Before I left, I had made your standard All-American-Girl-Goes-To-London Bucket List:

1) Buckingham

2) Fish and Chips

3) Tower of London/London Bridge

4) Drink in pubs

5) Find my prince

Spoiler Alert: everything was checked off from that list.

It didn't really hit me that I was in another country that first week... it felt as if I was in another big city like New York City or Washington D.C. The tube didn't really phase me due to my experience with the subway and the Metro. The only really ~foreign~ things about being in London were the time difference, the crazy traffic patterns, and the cars being on the wrong side (and they ARE on the wrong side... no offense, England).

The second week, it felt a little bit more real as I was able to go do more touristy things besides just taking my classes. I was becoming more comfortable around the different areas and adapting to the social norms. It helped that England was doing well in the World Cup so everyone was out at pubs and watching the games.

Fast forward to the third week. By this time, I felt too at home. The tube? Navigated. Pubs? We were regulars at the one near the dorm we were staying at. Night Life? Never have I seen a group of girls dominate a club like we did at Roxy. Iced Coffee? Still not a thing in England (seriously guys... you simply put ice in your coffee. There's no catch. It's not rocket science.) Bucket List? Four out of five items were checked off by the start of the third week. I had lost weight and honestly, I think I peaked a little. Basically, I was finessing this city.

This trip taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted to do thanks to the "study" part of being abroad. It also made me realize what a true friend is and that professors are humans too (shocking, I know). It showed me that I am more than capable of being in a different country and getting around all by myself.

But while London gave me so much, it came with a price. "She giveth and she taketh" or something like that. As cheesy as it sounds, London took a piece of my heart and it wasn't until the end of the last week that I realized it was happening. I'll be honest, at first, I knew that while London was a great city, America has my whole heart and though the memories would be great, I wouldn't be crying at the end of the trip.

Boy, was I wrong.

I didn't realize how much this city captured my time and heart and let's just say I was a snotty mess on the plane home (my apologies to my fellow passengers). I will forever cherish the people I met, the places I've been and things that I learned in London. It's a city that I will definitely return to as it's a new home to me because home is where the heart is and London for sure has a portion of it.

Cover Image Credit:

Madelene Whitfield

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I Visited The "Shameless" Houses And Here's Why You Shouldn't

Glamorizing a less-than-ideal way to live.
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After five hours of driving, hearing the GPS say "Turn right onto South Homan Avenue" was a blessing. My eyes peeled to the side of the road, viciously looking for what I have been driving so long for, when finally, I see it: the house from Shameless.

Shameless is a hit TV show produced by Showtime. It takes place in modern-day Southside, Chicago. The plot, while straying at times, largely revolves around the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. While a majority of the show is filmed offsite in a studio in Los Angeles, many outside scenes are filmed in Southside and the houses of the Gallagher's and side-characters are very much based on real houses.

We walked down the street, stopped in front of the two houses, took pictures and admired seeing the house in real life. It was a surreal experience and I felt out-of-place like I didn't belong there. As we prepared to leave (and see other spots from the show), a man came strolling down on his bicycle and asked how we were doing.

"Great! How are you?"

It fell silent as the man stopped in front of the Gallagher house, opened the gate, parked his bike and entered his home. We left a donation on his front porch, got back to the car and took off.

As we took the drive to downtown Chicago, something didn't sit right with me. While it was exciting to have this experience, I began to feel a sense of guilt or wrongdoing. After discussing it with my friends, I came to a sudden realization: No one should visit the "Gallagher" house.

The plot largely revolves the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. It represents what Southside is like for so many residents. While TV shows always dramatize reality, I realized coming to this house was an exploitation of their conditions. It's entertaining to see Frank's shenanigans on TV, the emotional roller coasters characters endure and the outlandish things they have to do to survive. I didn't come here to help better their conditions, immerse myself in what their reality is or even for the donation I left: I came here for my entertainment.

Southside, Chicago is notoriously dangerous. The thefts, murders and other crimes committed on the show are not a far-fetched fantasy for many of the residents, it's a brutal reality. It's a scary way to live. Besides the Milkovich home, all the houses typically seen by tourists are occupied by homeowners. It's not a corporation or a small museum -- it's their actual property. I don't know how many visitors these homes get per day, week, month or year. Still, these homeowners have to see frequent visitors at any hour of the day, interfering with their lives. In my view, coming to their homes and taking pictures of them is a silent way of glamorizing the cycle of poverty. It's a silent way of saying we find joy in their almost unlivable conditions.

The conceit of the show is not the issue. TV shows have a way of romanticizing very negative things all the time. The issue at hand is that several visitors are privileged enough to live in a higher quality of life.

I myself experienced the desire and excitement to see the houses. I came for the experience but left with a lesson. I understand that tourism will continue to the homes of these individuals and I am aware that my grievances may not be shared with everyone -- however, I think it's important to take a step back and think about if this were your life. Would you want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to your house? Would you want people to find entertainment in your lifestyle, good and bad?

I understand the experience, excitement, and fun the trip can be. While I recommend skipping the houses altogether and just head downtown, it's most important to remember to be respectful to those very individuals whose lives have been affected so deeply by Shameless.

Cover Image Credit: itsfilmedthere.com

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I Went Paragliding In The Swiss Alps, And It Was Nothing Like I Could Have Ever Imagined

When I woke up in the morning, did I expect to be strapped to a Swiss lady named Judith, and then consequently run down a steep hill at full speed? Nope.

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A lot of people have asked me how my spring break was, and I only thought it would be appropriate to sum up through my paragliding experience.

Paragliding in Switzerland is like football in America. You grow up hearing about it, your brother plays it, and even though you don't really understand the rules sometimes, you are a groupie anyway. Interlaken, especially, is known for paragliding.

Interlaken is a small town in the middle of Switzerland and in the middle of the Swiss Alps. If you take a 30-minute train ride, then you will find yourself close to one of the highest points in Europe. This place is absolutely insane. Like, "pinch me, is this real? I must be dreaming!" insane. Since this place is in the middle of the Alps, there are many opportunities to drive up random mountains, and run down them at full speed with a piece of cloth and a bunch of strings attached to you, because why not!!

So, here's what happens. You register online through a website that has a lot of capital letters and exclamation points, and you arrange a pickup spot where a guy in a van comes and tells you to get in. You then drive up a mountain for about an hour, while a guy with a thick accent and a good sense of humor explains to you how, when you get to the top, you are going to be strapped to an experienced paraglider and then you will collectively run down an extremely steep hill before you become lifted up and air bound.

This is exactly what happens. I was strapped to Judith, and Judith yelled "3, 2, 1, go!!" and I started to run down the steepest hill I have ever seen in my life, at full speed, until I eventually got lifted up, and there I was- air bound in the middle of the Swiss Alps, with a setting that seemed photoshopped.

That was my spring break. When I signed up for paragliding, I didn't expect to be told to run down a steep hill. I didn't expect it to be snowing at the top of the mountain. I didn't expect it to be as impactful as it was. But that's how traveling is. It's surprising, it's enlightening, and it will, quite literally, lift you off of your feet.

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