The First Day

It feels unreal that my flight is already here. The whole day was a whirlwind of packing, meaning fewer fond memories of joking around with my mother and more instances of running around the house in a panicked state. My last stop pre-airport was at Target and Lucky’s, where I proceeded to purchase some American sweets not available in Britain. Not that I’ll miss them, but they’ll be interesting to give to friends. My suitcase was overweight when I first packed it, so I had to take out some extra clothes and my precious protein powder and cacao powder. It will wait patiently for me upon my return in January.

It’s both wonderful and terrible having the airport so close to home. On one hand, it means 9 minutes door to door, or about an hour door to gate, but on the other hand, that’s only 9 minutes of calm before saying goodbye. I said goodbye and treated it like ripping a Band-Aid off a wound, and strode confidently-ish inside to check my bag. Waiting in the security checkpoint line is where I realized how heavy my backpack is….at least I won’t have to carry it too much I think. I mapped out the route to my AirBnB, since I’m arriving a day before my orientation, and it involves two tube changes, which could involve stairs. Yay. Stairs and suitcase = happy Nicole.

Like my last England trip, I flew Virgin Atlantic, and boy is it awesome. First off, it’s a 747, and I strategically booked a seat on the upper deck where there are only a few rows. That means less of a chance of a crying babies echoing throughout the plane. As more people loaded the aircraft, the middle seat remained empty. I didn’t want to celebrate until the doors were closed, and then proceeded to do an invisible happy dance.

The most awkward part of a flight is the beginning, when you don’t know whether you should introduce yourself and chitchat with your seatmates. At first I went for the whole “I’m occupied by my phone” strategy, and then just gave it up. I am studying abroad to try and work on my extrovert characteristics, and to stop ignoring strangers all the time. So here is a short summary of my new mate…just kidding, he isn’t British, so he’s not exactly my mate…

Name:               Matt
Occupation:    Business Person
Company:       Cisco
Colleges:         Some tiny liberal arts (Holyoke? Hoak?) and then University of Virginia for an MBA

Summary: He’s on the board at his old college, which is unfortunately suffering from a decreasing applicant pool due to the recession. High liberal arts college prices, and even fewer jobs than before for liberal arts graduates (there are jobs, just many require graduate school first or being proactive) mean fewer people are willing to fork out the money for that type of education. I tried to think of ways to help improve the application rate. They’re thinking about implementing a Data Science program, so I told him to get in touch with Harvey Mudd’s CS department, which could help them set up that type of program. And Maria Klawe, cause she’s a powerhouse of awesome when it comes to tech.

So we each get a little toiletries kit in addition to a pillow, blanket, and headphones. Then the stewardess walks around with “hot towels” for us to clean our hands and face before we have dinner. Of course they handed out miniature menus, which laid out the meals for the flight, which included three dinner options. I was very happy that within an hour of leaving I was able to get my dinner. I was hungry. My official meal was Beer Braised Beef Stew: Slow cooked, tenderized beef and vegetables in richly flavored gravy. Buttered peas, carrots, and potato dumplings. It came with a salad, multi-grain role, butter, vegetable cream cheese (I don’t know why you’d put that on your dinner roll…), crackers, and a miniature Key Lime Pie Cuplet. Think the size of a K-Cup. So. Cute. Also, look at my first view of England from the window of the airplane!!!

Airplane Clouds

I tried sleeping periodically throughout the flight, and failed. Utterly. I can’t sleep on airplanes. It’s so sad! That means I’ve essentially done an all-nighter. Ugh. I’ll feel the effects of it on my first day of orientation. I did get to watch Tomorrowland finally. I understand the reviews now. It is quite a confusing movie. It was cool, but I felt like they took way too long to tell us what Tomorrowland even was and such, and there seemed to be some inconsistencies in how the “portal” worked. I also watched a cute RomCom called “Man Up”, set in London to set the mood for my imminent arrival. I got hungry partway through the night morning thing (we were traveling through time zones), so I ate my Double Chocolate Chunk QuestBar. Aka the love of my life. Overall the flight has been pretty uneventful. I’m just hoping there isn’t much effort getting through customs and such. I’m not exactly looking forward to lugging around my backpack again. Whee. And hopefully I didn’t screw something up with all my paperwork cause I need to get a Visa at customs. It’ll probably all be fine. When we landed I got a beautiful view of this castle looking thing. Since I’m studying abroad in England I get to live in a castle instead of a dorm, right?

Castle from the Airplane

So it turns out that the second floor of Virgin’s 747 get let out before the rest of the economy seats downstairs. You know what that means? Beating out over 100 passengers in the Immigrations/Customs line. Booyah! I didn’t have to wait too long, and the man helping me out was funny, joking with the woman working next to him. The woman was helping another student, who had paid $200 for a student visa that you really can just get for free in person. He joked around that in revenge he’d make me wait longer for the free visa. It was a little intimidating all the questions he asked. I felt like one wrong word would mean bye bye, but I know it wasn’t really that bad.

The other student came up to me afterwards and asked where I was headed. She’s studying abroad at London School of Economics (LSE) and was hoping we could travel together. It turns out her meeting place was High Holborn or something, and I had to transfer from the Picadilly to Central line there anyways, so I could easily get her through the tube system while being on my way. I knew how nervous I was three years ago when I first visited London for my Dickens Hardy course and I love helping people, so it was a win-win! We went to baggage claim together where I was luckily able to get Wi-Fi and call my mom to let her know I was still alive. Then I “expertly” (meaning she thought I knew what I was doing but I was just confident in the fact that the transportation system is very well labeled) maneuvered us to the Picadilly line. I did make a fool of myself a few times, like standing in line for topping up my Oyster card…on the wrong side of the line. The two operators were at the exit and thought I was waiting to ask them a question so they both said, “What?” but I didn’t understand their accent or realize they were talking to me so I must have looked pretty silly…

I didn’t chat much with the other student on the Tube, as I was ridiculously exhausted. During my tube transfers I successfully almost stumbled/fell into one of the trains while trying to pull my bag up, and in general looked like a drowned rat who didn’t know where she was going. How am I so clumsy and out of place? I don’t feel like I was that way last time. Do I get more awkward with age? Once I got to Shadwell, which was the stop nearest the AirBnB, I couldn’t get an internet signal to let my host know I was there and ready to check in. Which was very frustrating. And I couldn’t figure out how to get there. I had Google Mapped it a few days before and screen shot it, but the screen shot didn’t name the streets, and I was having difficulty determining where Cable Street was, which I needed to get on. The jet lag was setting in mighty fierce, since I essentially had just done an all-nighter (being unable to sleep on the plane), so I just gave up and went to a payphone. Later I discovered it charged my card $10, which shouldn’t have happened, as I learned later that day that payphone calls should be 20p a minute. I don’t know what in the world went wrong, but I was able to locate my host who showed me the AirBnB.

The room was actually quite large. Like, larger than my dorm room at Harvey Mudd. And it was a double bed. I was super happy. I wanted to just collapse, but knew that I should freshen up after all the sweat that accumulated from my travels. So I wearily cleaned up, connected with my friend who I was meeting up with later, and took a nap. I told my friend to Skype call me when he was near the AirBnB (I was too afraid to meet him at the station as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find it again) and guess what? I slept through his calls. Which resulted in some frustrated messages saying he was going to lunch nearby and then leaving. I woke up 40 minutes after he arrived and luckily he had just finished lunch and wasn’t mad enough to not hang out with me again. So I was able to meet up with him. However, when dropping stuff off in my room, my nose erupted into a dual nostril projectile nosebleed hitting both of us. It was like something out of a movie. “Hi there friend, how are you—OMG WHY IS THERE BLOOD ON YOUR NECK? WAIT, THERE’S BLOOD EVERYWHERE. Oops, it’s mine.” Runs to bathroom.

Just another episode in “Nicole is More Awkward in England”. We went to Waterloo station where we ate at Wagami, a Japanese take out place. I got the Chicken Katsu with rice, which was quite refreshing considering that all I had eaten that day was the Ham and Cheese croissant and fruit juice from the plane, a pumpkin muffin, and a miniature Reese’s Cup. The worst part was that I didn’t feel hungry. But considering how much I’d walked and how little I had eaten, my body must have been in crazy adrenaline hungry mode. We walked along the Thames for a bit, and then went to a bar on the 8th floor with a beautiful view of St. Paul’s Cathedral. They actually carded us out front even after asking how old we are. I guess I don’t look like a 22 year old. But come on, I’m over 18. It was cute anyways. Like the refined woman I am, I had my non-alcoholic apple juice in a wine glass with ice and a straw. Oh. Yeah. Pumps fist. I mean you have to have fun if you don’t drink alcohol. We walked along the Thames some more and passed the Globe Theater and the London Eye, then sat watching Big Ben from across the river to wait for it to chime the quarter hour (to get the full effect). I got home around midnight, which was probably a good idea as it really forced me to stay up late and get used to the time change.

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