The Anxious Ambassador

Living in The Big City wasn’t something I ever thought I could do. I never thought I would be able to live in a place with 8.6 million other people, all bustling around me at the same rapid pace, surrounded by buildings taller than any I had ever seen and older than any I had ever felt. I never thought that I would have the capability to exist among others in a packed tube car as we travel together, zooming underground across the city, everyone pressing in on me from every side. I never thought that I could do something like live in London, even if it was only for a brief time.

I grew up in rural Southern Maryland, playing in the woods and climbing trees, spending a lot of time with the same few people I grew up with or even just alone and in the quiet of our home. I struggle with loud noises and large groups of people and I start to panic when I can’t escape the presence of buildings and bodies surrounding me. I need space and open air, trees and grass, sunshine and stars, all like a balm on my soul that calms and soothes me.

These things don’t exactly create the perfect picture of a Londoner, do they? I know this, I’ve always known this, and to me it’s always meant that I would never be someone who would be capable of living in a city like London. Where would I even begin? How would I start making a place for myself in a massive city with no room for a small, fearful young woman who isn’t sure where she belongs? I would be eaten alive! There was no point in trying. It was safer for me to stay at home in the woods, away from it all, where I would never have to risk being lost and afraid.

Then, though, then I got a chance to go to London to study children’s literature and to fulfill a dream, and I couldn’t stay away.

Because as afraid as I am of the city, I am also fascinated by it. The history, the culture, the economy, the politics, the immensity of it all—it’s incredible and wonderful and amazing. Even the people, the massive amounts of people, are enchanting. There is so much to learn from living there, even for just three weeks, and my desire for this knowledge was great. I wanted to go, I couldn’t not go, but I was so very afraid.

What if I get lost? What if there are too many people? What if it’s too loud? What if it’s too much? What if I panic? What if I can’t do things like the other people can? What if they chose the wrong person for this honor?

What if I am just not good enough?

When the Fulbright Commission asked me why I wanted to be a Fulbright Summer Institute Participant, I talked about being an ambassador. It meant a lot to me to be an ambassador from the US to the UK, and once I was home, to be an ambassador for study abroad to the UK from the US, but I wanted to be more. I wanted to be a disability ambassador. I wanted to be the kind of ambassador who came from a school where she worked very hard and tried her very best and she was recognized for that, she was honored for that, and she stood as tall as anyone else selected for this great experience not despite of her disability, but because of it. Not despite of the way she flinched away from crowds and loud sounds, but because of the way her mind perceived the world and crafted the words to describe it. I wanted to be the type of ambassador to tell the children I work with every day, the children who are like me, that they don’t have to hide this incredible, wonderful, amazing part of them because they are so beautifully human and that is enchanting.

I wasn’t sure if I could do this great big thing that I had worked so very hard to achieve, but I knew that I wanted to so very badly, the same way I wasn’t sure if I could go to college and be successful, or speak professionally and publically—but these were my dreams, and they were so important to me, and I was never going to give them up. So I decided to try my best, as I always have done, and fully experience the city, fully appreciate my journey in London, and fully live my life abroad.

And, wouldn’t you know it, I did it.

Humbly and gratefully,

Hannah Bear, a proud Autistic young woman

The Magic of London

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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.

Alaina Keller

 

 

Hey London, Remember When?

Remember that time I went to London for Three Whole Weeks – All By Myself? As I’m sitting in the shared kitchen of the flat that has been my home for the past three weeks, it’s hard to believe this trip is closer to becoming a memory than it is to being an adventure. And well, it has been an Adventure, and also a Challenge, and also lots of Other Things that I know I will cherish for many years to come. I’ve grown as a person, as a group member, as a leader, and as a writer. I’m headed home with a suitcase that is much heavier and a heart that is much more full. I get exited thinking of my future classroom filled with British books and students curious of the island across the pond, all the stories I can tell them beyond red telephone booths and a really large clock.

I can’t wait to teach children about culture, globalization, harmony, and sometimes dissonance of beliefs and ideals. I can’t wait to write stories that take children to places I’ve traveled, places where the flag has the same colors but a different pattern, places where there’s a queen and history that travels all the way back to the beginning of time. I can’t wait to introduce Harry Potter and the idea that England is more than a wizard world drowning in tea. But while the future is exciting to think about, I want to stay in the present for just a moment longer.

Stay in this moment where I am just a Small Girl in the very middle of a Big World. The traffic is so loud outside of my window, but it reminds me that there is constantly life happening: life that doesn’t slow down, life that keeps pushing forward regardless of if I am there to appreciate it or not. When I leave this place, there will still be far too many people cramming themselves into a single carriage on the underground during rush hour. There will still be people that are grateful they remembered to bring their brolley out with them as the relentless London skies unleash their power on the people below. When I leave this place, few people will know that I am leaving a completely new person, unaware that every inch of this city has left a mark on me that I cannot erase.

And I am so, so thankful for that.

I could talk about all of the amazing things I have learned in my studies: how literature has changed right before my very eyes into something so much more than I ever expected. How my tutor is so intelligent and witty, offering insights into a world I had never even heard of, of fan fiction and nonsense language and controversy. I could talk about all of the history that I have been a part of, the influence of Brexit on my time here, how Londoners stand just as in shock as myself with the daily news headlines. I could talk about the rich past I learned so much about, the royalty and the treasures England has to offer those who go looking.

But I don’t think any of the many words I could come up with would ever do it justice.

Thank you, London, for the memories you’ve given me. Thank you for the stories I can share, the laughter that poured out of my throat, the insight into a new culture and into a new way of thinking. Thank you, King’s, for one of the best summers of my life. Thank you for knowledge, for guidance, and for a beautiful campus that has given me so much more than I knew I wanted. Thank you, Fulbright, for the opportunity of a lifetime and the chance to go share with the rest of the world what I’ve learned.

I’m not good with goodbyes so we shall settle for a sweet

See You Later.

Angel Ann

Loved by London

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On Saturday morning, my friends and I boarded a tour bus headed for Oxford and, later in the day, Windsor. The tour guide, whose name I was never quite able to catch, started our adventure by reminding us about the historical beginnings of London. “London has always, always been a city of many cultures, ever since its founding,” he said. “No matter what we do about Brexit, whether we truly leave or we end up staying in the EU, this city is, has been, and always will be a multicultural hub.” The trip was fantastic, and I truly enjoyed every minute I spent on the historic campuses of Oxford University and exploring Windsor Castle, but as our tour guide bid us goodbye, it’s what he said to us that has really stuck with me. “London loves having you here.”

I think it might be true.

In class, recently, we were asked to think about looking at the world through a child’s eyes. I wasn’t really sure what that meant at first (because I’ve always had the same eyes, you know) but I may be starting to get it. The longer I stay in the city, the farther I walk through the streets, the deeper I go into the heart and soul of London, the more I can feel my vision clear. I worry less about acting proper and start instead to wonder about what I would see if I looked with eyes unburdened with the things I think I know.

If I looked at London with a child’s eyes, I would see something like this: every morning, people hustle and bustle very quickly in one direction, and every evening they move a bit more slowly in the other, like the tide. Taxis, buses, and bicycles all race about and compete with each other for space and time, which is always running out. There is something called the Underground, a great big snake that lives inside the city, and if you’re nice to it and time it just right, you can ride in its belly as it slithers through the tunnels it has made. Best of all, scattered around the city, there are great big landmarks where you can go and you can touch the history of world and feel the gentle thrumming centers of London’s magic. This magic spreads out through every street, alley, and sidewalk of London and, with patient eyes, you can find it.

Untitled designI know, because I’ve seen it.

I found it first when I wasn’t looking, in the gardens of Westminster Abbey, where tansy and rosemary and yarrow grow, in the blooming flowers that stretched up to touch my fingers as I passed. I felt it when I pressed my palms to the stones of the White Tower at the Tower of London and heard the wind whisper in my ear, over and over, begging to be heard. I experienced it when my feet never got too lost and, when allowed to take me where they would, always, somehow, led me somewhere new and interesting and never too far from home. And when I started looking for it, I saw magic on my way to class in the morning, on the Waterloo Bridge, in the way parents take their children to school in the morning by racing together on scooters, in the man who says good morning to me every day as he sells magazines, in the people who smile at me when they catch my gaze.

I’ve found London’s magic in the markets, where a man let me try strawberries and raspberries he was selling at his stall because they were too good to let go bad by the end of the day.

I’ve found London’s magic in the Tube, where a stranger held open the door for me as I rushed to leap onto a train about to depart.

I’ve found London’s magic in the people who live here, all of them, every single one.

When I let myself think freely, when I let go of the knowledge of the city I thought I had gained before I ever came here, what comes to mind is these brilliant thoughts of London infused with magic. London is magic. The city stretches far and wide, the old mixed in with the new, people running and breathing and existing in the body of this great being that is the city. London lives, it breathes, it has a soul older than I can imagine, and maybe, just maybe, it sees me. London sees me, and London loves having me here.

Lost in London

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The best place to be in London is lost.

Let me be the first to tell you that the experience is not for everyone, that it is stressful, intimidating, and frustrating beyond all reason.  Then, on the other hand, we have people blessed with enough experience and directional ability that they no longer can get lost in London.  The city is simply a memorized map of streets for them, a collection of “well, we should have gone that way, but this way is fine too” conversations.

Unfortunately, I am most definitely not that latter type of navigational person.  But after only two weeks of a schedule so packed in a city so busy, I shouldn’t have to be.  There is something so special in being lost that to skip the experience entirely by never venturing outside comfortable boundaries should be regarded as a missed opportunity, no matter how aggravating being lost can seem at times.  In that moment of confusion, when the wide open streets make me feel so insignificant as I look up at unfamiliar signs, that is when my eyes are truly open to London.  No longer am I just glancing over the architecture or admiring a quaint shop window, but I find myself memorizing the turns that I make and taking note of any important memorials and locations to gather a sense of where exactly I am wandering.  I begin to take in London as the significant city that it is, not just as a bullet point on a casual tourist’s bucket list.

As I see London for London itself, it only makes sense that I appreciate the city more, that I come to love the streets in which I lose myself.  So much of the city resides beneath its famous façade, and it has been a true adventure to discover the London which so many other travelers overlook.  The Wonderland fantasy in Twinings teashop, the small daisies surrounding the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden, and the small stationary stores that dot the inner roads all appear just as poignant as the Elizabeth Tower in the moment; they all are London to me.

In seeing London for the city that it currently is, I am inspired to do the same for my own across the Atlantic.  It’s rather difficult to be lost in my hometown, having grown up being guided by my parents down every road, so I have never had the opportunity to truly face the same confusion and frustration that currently allows me to embrace the streets with which I am unfamiliar.  Always comfortable in my home surroundings, I just accepted my home as it appeared to me throughout my childhood.  And although we still have a week left in this trip, I know that I must return home at some point, to a place where I can no longer be easily lost.  Still, in coming on this adventure, I have learned the importance of the sentiments behind wandering aimlessly in a city, and when my plane lands in Baltimore, it will be time to “lose myself” once again.

Chicken Nuggets (And Other Small Victories)

angel london photoAnother week has passed, and I find myself in the same daze of unfamiliarity as when I arrived. Well, sort of. No matter how many times I walk across the Waterloo bridge on my way to class, I still manage to find something I haven’t seen before. (Side bar: this bridge is also the best place for people watching. Between businessmen rushing to work, ladies in dress and sneakers for their daily trek across London, and adorable children in school uniform headed to class, the imagination cannot cover all of the possible backstories of passersby.) As we begin to venture outside of London, unfamiliarity breeds adventure; I can never tell if it is adrenaline or sheer power of will that keeps my tired feet trudging on.

I celebrate the Small Victories here: as a Girl With No Sense Of Direction, finding the way to class all on my own is very exciting. Even more exciting is becoming a Certified Pro at figuring out the Underground system. (With possible help from the London Tube app.) It was a goal of mine to manage navigation of city life in my time here, and I am pleased to inform you that I am not getting lost as often as before. Progress, people. Baby steps.

But besides all of this enthralling news, the purpose of this post is to highlight the things I didn’t expect to miss as much as I do, the things that are Very Much London but Only Slightly Charming, and the Small Victories. Think of this as a glamorized complaint filtered with gratitude (because let’s face it – there is nowhere else I would rather be than here, experiencing all that I am, despite the waves of homesickness and level of exhaustion I have reached), and tiny triumphs.

Victory One: Making The Absolute Most Of My Time Here. (I might be slowly dying of sleep deprivation, but dog-gone-it I have SEEN me some London sights!) In the Fulbright helpful-tip-guide, there were instructions to “Stay out late and get up early!” This has become a sarcastic motto of our group, as we cannot imagine staying up even a minute later than we already do, or getting up a second earlier than the fifth snooze of our alarms. We don’t waste our time, however; we squeeze in as much as we can in the time we can stand to stay awake. This sometimes means catching the tube immediately after class in order to make it Westminster Abbey before close, or grabbing the tram to Greenwich and running up the hill to the Royal Observatory to make sure we can soak up as much as possible within our precious, limited hours. And although our nights end earlier, our days are no less than jam-packed.

Victory Two: Managing To Talk To My Family/Friends Even With A Six-Hour Time Difference. (It is still weird to call my mom in the afternoon to catch her just as she is waking up.) Between trying to see everything there is to see, and also learning everything there is to learn, it is hard to find time to tell my family and friends about my adventures. Fortunately, I have been able to catch them before they leave for work or on lunch break to hurriedly gush about the events of the day. Some stories just can’t wait until I get home.

Victory Three: Finding True American Chicken Nuggets. (Under those glorious golden arches.) I am a picky eater, so finding food within budget that is appetizing has proven itself to be quite the challenge. One can only live so long on Tesco tuna and cucumber sandwiches, anyhow. As my favorite food is chicken nuggets and pizza, and pizza already having the hold on my diet, today I had the opportunity to devour those sweet, delicious nuggets. Let me tell you… I had forgotten just how much I missed those nugs, oh so salty fries (or chips for the Brits), and an ice cold Coke. My mood increased in happiness by (conservatively estimating) ten thousand percent. God bless Chicken Nuggets.

This city continues to challenge me, and with a new week approaching I am nervous, but excitingly nervous, to see what I will face next. I know that at the end of the day – no matter how many miles I’ve walked across this country, no matter how many times I’ve given a cashier a five pence instead of a ten pence, no matter how many times I end up on the Underground during rush hour – I will collapse on my bed in my flat, thankful for another day full of Small Victories.

Until then.

 

Angel Ann

 

The Little Things In London

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I’m a big believer in the little things of life and always have been (see my Twitter bio for proof). It’s all about taking a step back and appreciating the small moments that just make you smile and happy to be alive.

And I never would have guessed how much more London would make me appreciate those little things.

Over the past two weeks I’ve welcomed those moments as I have acquainted myself with areas of London close to my temporary home on Stamford Street. The walk across Waterloo Bridge every morning leaves me breathless (they do say it’s the best view in London at street level for a reason people), but I look around and see no one else taking it all in. Businessmen and women rush by hurriedly with headphones in, children create stories deep in their imaginations to tell to friends walking by their side, and others I guess just don’t have an excuse.

I get a moment of awe when walking in the original Twining teashop on the Strand or Hamleys, the oldest toy store in the world, but others shopping rush by me like it’s just another Tesco on the street corner. They don’t feel the privilege I feel to be in that moment, standing in a place with so much history.

I especially adored my stroll through Kensington Gardens this week, where I was finally able to walk through a real field of grass for the first time since arriving in this big city, which was surreal. My friends and I took time to sit on the benches among the flowers near Kensington Palace and just take in the beauty surrounding us. Later, in Hyde Park I literally took time to stop and smell the roses in the Queen’s Rose Garden, and if that isn’t the ultimate little thing to appreciate I don’t know what is.

However, while appreciating the little things in London, I have also begun to be reminded of all the things I take for granted while at home as well.

As I start to get homesick in the quiet moments of the day, I miss being able to walk out into my gravel driveway, hop in my car, and drive to a place where I am actually alone on the dirt roads. Not alone as I am when in my flat here, with the noise of people and vehicles always present outside my street-side window. I miss the ample availability of Dr. Pepper in the states, as I dearly crave those 23 refreshing flavors all in one glass. And I miss the luxuries of a fully equipped kitchen that I can throw together whatever my little heart desires (which usually ends up to be something super delicious and unhealthy, like cookie bakes or brownie mix) instead of relying on pre-prepared food.

Regardless of these missing parts of my life, I continue to start each day with the attitude that I will enjoy every aspect of this experience, and I truly do, taking in each and every step. However, I have also resolved to do the same when I return home.

After all, it’s all about the little things – and London has reminded me that.

Until next week,

Miranda

 

 

The City And The Girl

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My name is Angel Ann Semrick, and I come from the faraway land of Kentucky, USA. I grew up within the sweet corn and wheat fields of my hometown, and my idea of a large city is a place where there is more than three traffic lights. (As you can imagine, this makes London a very, very, very large city to me. A place that fits 14 million people during the workday needs So Many Traffic Lights.) I lovingly study Elementary Education and Special Education at Western Kentucky University, with the hope of becoming a Kindergarten teacher who fills children with knowledge and love. (And perhaps also becoming a children’s author – more on this later.)

Being that I am from such a tiny place a large ocean away from England, I knew little more than talks of tea and red telephone booths about the place I was soon to travel. This blog post details the differences that color my time here, from language barriers to culture shock, in a hopefully interesting enough way that you will read it with enjoyment.

One thing that I love about London is that it can take your breath away with its beauty or its culture or its history enough that you want the entire city to just pause out of respect for this moment of revelation, this moment when your world is being redefined. But it doesn’t, and of course it doesn’t, because London is not the kind of city that has the kind of time to sit still or wait for anyone or anything to catch up to it.

I suppose that’s part of its magic.

Coming from America, I wondered what kinds of feelings I would feel as I entered the land where my ancestors decided to leave and eventually divorce. I thought my first impressions would be deep and wise, but instead I found myself gapping at the driver-less vehicles that hurried past me, a single body in the passenger space, traveling furiously on the wrong side of the road. My first trip in one of these vehicles was rather unsettling, and I found that while navigating the streets I was more than grateful for the “Look Left” paint on the road saving me from becoming Red-Bus-Road-Kill.

As if this Great Confusion were not enough, the setup of London adds to the challenge of studying abroad. The changing of tube lines, the twisting, cobblestone paths, the crosswalks that often became cross-RunAndHopeYouMakeIts creates adventures for me and my new friends. Learning to navigate without having a GPS is a rite of passage, and I am grateful for the opportunity to grow in such a way.

Other differences that encouraged me to grow as an individual: the true global-ness (if I may use such a term) of this city. Never before have I seen such a beautiful blend of cultures. Shop keepers have patience with me as I try to figure out the ever-confusing currency and offer to help. People on the streets speak a myriad of languages, but most wear a smile for you. The city breathes in different cultures and exhales an acceptance and appreciation unlike anything I have ever known. And that is my favorite part.

The class in which I study holds a mixture of people who come from places all over the wide world with perspectives and ideas much different than mine. This is exciting and new; I’ve never had a class so diverse. I am excited to learn and share with you what I will learn in my time here, both intellectually and culturally.

While these are some of the bigger differences between the US and the UK, I think the little, subtler differences are the most surprising to me. A small language barrier exists that I did not anticipate, between “chips” not being Chips, and “pounds” not being Weight, and “calories” existing as Kilo-Jules. Lunch is cheaper takeaway, alcohol is available at Tesco, and stickers are not a popular souvenir and very impossible to find. I delight in these differences and cannot wait to find more of them to share.

London is a big place for this small girl, but it is a playground I am thrilled to explore.

I am glad you can peek into this adventure with me.

Until next time,

Angel Ann

Telling our story – A fairytale in progress

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Hello everyone!

I hope you have enjoyed my friends’ posts so far and I am so excited to introduce myself to you as well. My name is Miranda and, as you can guess, I am also one of the 2016 Fulbright Summer Institute participants here at the King’s College of London. I’m a rising sophomore at Kansas State University studying Political Science and Communication Studies, minoring in Leadership Studies. Yes, minoring in leadership is a thing and it’s life changing, but so is this opportunity to explore the UK that I feel so privileged to take part in.

So far my fellow participants and I, in a nutshell, have heightened our ability to get lost, reached new limits of exhaustion, and mastered the art of identifying pence coins. And it hasn’t even been a full week!

Yet, despite all of these newfound experiences, the stimulating class discussions during our “Wonderland: 100 Years of Children’s Literature Class” are the most looked forward to part of my day. I love the unique class topic and the new perspectives I have gained from having a class with students from so many different cultures.

On the second day of class, led by the wonderful tutor Victoria Carroll, we delved into the history surrounding the fairy-tale of Little Red Riding Hood, learning the process by which the well-known, modern day version emerged. The fairy tale’s journey followed a path created by various authors, each with their own agenda and unique adaptation of the girl who ventured through the woods. As a class exercise we then explored our own imaginations, creating a myriad of individual stories all based on the premise of the classic tale, but each having their own twists. From our small groups emerged feminist characterization of Red, a flipped-gender version, and a wolf-pelt collecting grandmother.

Miranda PhotosThese starkly different personal adaptations we created have a clear comparison to each individual’s experience in London itself. They each hinge on the same premise: a perception of what London is before coming here, whether that is interpreted as the iconic London sights or a more holistic view of a global city. However, the end result is the same: each story is uniquely and wonderfully different.

Every individual here makes their experience their own.

It took me departing on this journey to understand the concept of my experience being the same as those before me, such as previous Fulbright participants, was irrelevant.

Yes, our experience in London thus far has included many of the clichés: visiting Westminster Abbey, seeing Big Ben, walking along the Strand, and of course eating gelato. While we are doing the same things as so many others before us, the point is, it’s still different. They haven’t met the same people or entertained the same conversations. They didn’t try blue lipstick on in Covent Garden or walk to the wrong end of the city when attempting to find Parliament Square.

Our experience is original. Our adaptation is well crafted. Our story is unique.

And it’s our choice how we tell it.

I’m just hoping that the way I’ve chose to tell you mine keeps you reading.

Cheers for now!

Learning to Speak Like the Queen (and Other Important Lessons)

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My name is Hannah Bear, I’m a rising junior Communications major from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, in the United States, and boy, do I have an awesome story to tell you. It’s going to take three weeks as I find my footing across the pond in London, so stay with me, here. It starts like this:

Back in April, early one morning, I rolled over in bed at 8AM to punch my alarm off my side table in an attempt to get it to stop ringing. I procrastinated getting out of bed by checking some emails and my heart stopped for a solid two seconds when I saw that I had an email from the Fulbright Commission. “You did your best,” I remember whispering to myself as I tapped it open, thinking back on the months I spent perfecting my essays and worrying into the early hours of the morning about my application details. I scanned it and read the first few words: Congratulations! No way. You have been selected by the US-UK Fulbright Commission and confirmed by King’s College London to take part in the 2016 Fulbright Summer Institute at King’s College London. No. Way!

I was probably in shock for a week and a half. I couldn’t believe I’d get to spend three weeks taking a course on the wonderland of children’s literature at King’s. Any minute I expected a follow-up email: Whoops! Sorry! Wrong recipient. Please disregard and find somewhere at least semi-private to cry. Of course, that didn’t happen, and instead I received weekly emails from staff with helpful tips about the wonderful, exciting, and vibrant city of London – how to get around, how to navigate, where to eat, visit, and shop, all sorts of critical information. As I am absorbing all this information, I recall saying to my mother, “I’m really glad we speak the same language, at least!”

Here’s the thing: we don’t.

Football? Not the same. Chips? Not the same. Pants? DEFINITELY not the same! I grabbed a box of biscuits at the Tesco on the corner and guess what? Those aren’t buttermilk delights, they’re cookies (which, to be honest, was actually a pleasant surprise). When we touched down at Heathrow and got through customs, I was shocked at how I actually could not understand a word of what anyone was saying. Accents were thick, words flew quickly, and if you aren’t paying attention, you’re going to miss something or get confused. Trust me, I am old hat at being confused, I am a professional at knowing when it’s about to happen.

I just assumed that because the basic alphabet is the same, and the structure is the same, that the language is the same. Alphabet and syntax aren’t what make a language, though; content and context make a language. The UK has a whole different pop culture to reference, an entirely separate bank of euphemisms and turns of phrase and figures of speech, a whole grocery store of various foods and a department store (called Harrods) of commodities to call upon that are not our own. Of course their language is different!

The point is that even things you think you know, you don’t. Even things that seem obvious are not. English and English, same language, but different sides of the globe. Different worlds, it seems, and I can’t wait to explore this one. I’m even starting to learn the language; I’m picking it up quickly! So while I’m here, my name is Hannah Bear, I’m starting my third year at university in the States, and my story is going to be brilliant.