Back in the world of stars and stripes, of ketchup on fries, of predictable weather and sunny skies, I find that life here in the States is so much richer, like the sweet macarons I couldn’t stop myself from buying, now that I have been away. It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, that being far from my home has made its small details more precious, but falling down the rabbit hole of London has enriched my life in ways that no ordinary experience ever could. I feel like Alice, returned from Wonderland.
Now looking left instead of right at a traffic light—did I finally get that right?—I smile every time. Only a week ago, I was walking in what seemed like a separate universe, a Wonderland in which people look right instead of left at traffic lights. What can I do but smile when I think of such a world? How else can I express the awe and excitement of being in a place where cars go in opposite ways, where pubs are as common as gardens, and where a multitude of Turner paintings dot a gallery’s walls? I may not have attended the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, but I certainly drank a fine cup of tea at Harrods, and the prices there made me feel as if I were going mad. Also, I hardly needed the Cheshire Cat to tell me that I was going the wrong way—I knew that for myself—but as I walk along the familiar roads of my hometown, I laugh at how anxious I had been, pouring over my mobile map on random street corners in London. I know now that where I had ended up in these last three weeks, I would have been in love.
From traffic lights to Turner paintings and mobile maps, my time in London was truly magical. But that magic never really has to end, even when I finally settle back into my normal life on this side of the Atlantic, and it manifests itself in questions. The “what-ifs” and conundrums of traveling between Baltimore and London keep that tourist spirit alive even after I have left. They have since morphed from “which way do I look to cross the road?” and “where do I find a bottle of diet Coke around London?” to questions that I never thought I would have to ask in the States. What if we really don’t drive on the “right” side of the road? And where on earth can I find a decent cup of tea in Baltimore?
Hopefully, this tourist spirit will never leave me, for as I keep questioning the world around me, it keeps it alive and interesting and magical. London may have been a Wonderland to me, but it is one that I hope to visit again someday and ask “now which way do I look to cross the road again?” For now, though, as I wander and wonder in my own city, I cannot help but feel extremely blessed to have been able to fall down that rabbit hole and experience that which is London.
I keep saying that it was magical, but in reality, words fail to express how truly amazing those three weeks were for me. More than just Alice, I became a tourist, a student, an art admirer, a prolific shopper, and an avid walker. I saw so many wonderful things and learned so much more, from seminars on children’s literature to lessons in self-confidence. Though I may still be the same five foot height that I was the day we left, I know that I have grown so much from those three weeks abroad, beyond my American looking glass. There I met a breathtaking King’s, a wonderful Fulbright staff, a fantastic Summer School, and a professor whose talent made her course larger than life itself. Each helped to make this experience practically perfect in every way, and I could never have made it across the pond without them. So a heartfelt “Thank you!” is more than due, and who knows? Maybe I will be back to say “’ello!” again soon.