Ah…the first full week of classes. It’s not what you expect to hear on a semester abroad, but I didn’t mind it. I appreciated the sense of normalcy coming back into my regiment. Until this point, I have felt like a tourist on an extended holiday so far and maybe the introduction of classes will be enough to make me feel like a temporary resident. We are in a special situation here in London. As international students, we are balancing the responsibility of being a student (and technically a temporary resident) in the UK, while knowing nothing about it. We are charged with the responsibility of settling in while fighting the urge to be overwhelmed and subject to culture shock.
Regardless of my views on acclimation, nothing could make me feel like a Brit more than seeing a football match. On September 12th, we set out from our flat in South Kensington on a hajj to the football mecca of England: Wembley Stadium. We were going to see England’s finest squad face the Ukraine in a World Cup Qualifier. While some of my friends enjoyed the opportunity to view the sport in this situation, I feel like they didn’t understand the brevity of the situation. WE WERE SEEING ENGLAND PLAY A MATCH THAT WOULD AFFECT THEIR SEEDING YEARS IN ADVANCE. That is crazy. Despite their efforts, England could only catch up to make it a 1-1 tie. I was proud to sport the latest kit in support of an institution of football at this game.
Unfortunately, we had to wait until the weekend to have another dose of British culture into our everyday regiment. On Sunday, we set out from South Kensington on a bus to Brighton. Why? Because it was a cheap day trip and why not. Sights of the Royal Pavilion met our eyes as soon as the bus came to a rest. Large turrets and styling of Indian architecture sprouted up from behind trees and greenery. We queued up outside of the palace and awaited the longest audio tour of our lives. Armed with our telephone like audio device, we listened to a ton of information in a monotone voice and baroque classics. While inside, the extravagance was impressive in that the gold and precious medals, marble, and beautiful trinkets were everywhere. However, this was the gaudiest palace I had ever seen. As an American, I have no authority to critique palaces…because we have none of historical significance stateside. Despite my lack of qualification, the Royal Pavilion struck me as a little boy’s childhood dream seen to fruition through the recreation of the Orient in its styling and architecture. For example, the dining room featured every possible amenity…with a golden dragon on it. The rich reds and teals clashed wildly as they accompanied the frescoes and sculptures of mythical beasts and the like. Not to mention, the palace smelled bad.
Once we made our way through the long audio tour, we were released into Brighton with a poorly pixelated map and a general idea of where things were. First stop: lunch and then to the Pier. After enjoying one of the cheapest sit-down meals we have experienced in the UK and passing a Frank Sinatra impostor on the street, we made our way to the sound of the sea. We were quickly sidetracked by the vast array of little shops and galleries on the street. Once these shops and galleries released up from their clutches, we finally made it to the pier. The brisk air didn’t stop us from walking all the way down to the amusement park suspended over the sea. One couldn’t manage to walk around this loud, bustling emporium of fun and bad culinary decisions and wonder how creepy it would be at 3am with no people present…
Fully knowing that our time in Brighton was waining, we set out for the “vintage district” or something like that…whatever our grainy, school-issued zoomed-in Google map. Equipped with imagination and virtually no money, this seemed like the place for us. We wound our way back through the side streets until we found the telltale sign that a vintage store was close…graffiti and hipsters. Beautiful murals spanning for blocks, enveloping multiple buildings, vibrantly showed us the way through an otherwise overcast and grey afternoon. It felt like traveling down the rabbit hole as acoustic guitar and foot traffic beckoned us to the land of handmade and secondhand goods. Numerous clothing stores, antique shops, and specialty stores ate up our time faster than we would like to admit. After spending over an our and a half in this stimulating environment, we had to return home…but not without a warm beverage to combat the cold rolling in. This week was perfect. We learned that there is life outside London and that sometimes you need to stray off the beaten path and away from the brand names to find something new and interesting.