It is currently October, and I have yet to go to a single class here in London. After a long summer at home, watching my friends pack their bags and head back to Austin, I was finally on the plane headed to Heathrow, hoping everything would be OK while I tried to get some sleep.
For the first day or two, I had no idea if it really was going to be okay. After unpacking, I paced around my room and listened to the sound of traffic underneath my window before I mustered up the courage to go exploring. If the semester was going to start late (at least in comparison to UT), I might as well make the best of it and get to know the city.
It was clear from the first few hours that getting to know London is a herculean effort. Unlike my hometown in Texas, where the roads are wide and the largest buildings are neat suburban houses all in a row, London’s buildings tower up and seem to swallow you whole.
They’re beautiful, to be sure — aged stone and gilded carvings are so rare back home but commonplace in London. The buildings I admired in the first few days were probably nothing but the apartment building on top of a convenience store or a simple sandwich shop where local office workers gathered during lunch break. Despite how commonplace they would have seemed to actual Londoners, I gaped at them without shame.
Once you get over the initial impression, navigating the city is your next task. The first time I went down into a subway station, I ended up pretending to study the map on the wall before walking out. For the rest of the week, I walked miles around the city rather than risk the unknown of the subway station.
I am writing this now from a little coffee shop I stumbled on during one of these daily walks. The main thing I’ve noticed about London so far is that there’s no plan necessary. I don’t have to plan where I have to eat or whether I should bring a packed lunch or not. I don’t need to think about how I’ll entertain myself today or when I should schedule a grocery trip. All I have to do is step out the front door, and I’ll inevitably find whatever I need to find.
London is so rich in everything it has to offer—dozens of coffeeshops and new restaurants crammed on every street, historical museums every time you turn the corner, advertisements for musicals and plays plastered on the walls and windows and everywhere they can be taped.
The abundance of everything—shops to check out, foods to eat, museums to visit, and gardens to stroll around—gives me a wonderful feeling of content solace. I can’t deny that going out to dinner with my flatmates or exploring the city with other students from my program is fun, but I can’t help but see this semester abroad as more of a peaceful retreat.
All I need to do is play some songs I love through my earbuds and go on a walk. Maybe I’ll end up in a museum, gazing at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, as I did just two days ago. Or perhaps I’ll be sitting at the bar in a Waterstones before I go up and down the wrought iron staircases, running my fingers over books that are dirt-cheap compared to the Barnes & Nobles of home. Then I’ll go out the door and go walking some more, exploring the city that can probably never be explored to the fullest — but I can certainly try.
This post was contributed by Sarah Joung, a Global Ambassador for Fall 2022. Sarah is a third-year international relations and global studies major currently studying abroad in London, England.