Tales from across the pond.


My headphones were in as I watched the other students texting or talking on their cell phones, all in different parts of the terminal. We were avoiding eye contact with each other, even though we were all heading to the same program for three months. I looked down and realized I probably should not have been wringing my ticket and hoped that it would not keep me from getting on the plane.

In the four months since I had decided to study abroad, the decision never actually felt real until this moment. It was like standing on a huge rock at the edge of a lake that people dive from, and when you get to the top you really want to climb back down but know the only thing you can do is jump.

I do not remember saying goodbye to my loved ones, or going through security. I do remember standing in the terminal with my shoes off and thinking that I should probably put them back on. It was like as soon as I got through security, I was on my own — which mostly terrified me.

A girl sitting next to me was talking on her phone. I thought it was really odd that she got to the terminal and had to call her friends. But little did I know she would turn out to be one of my favorite people ever.

I do not remember my seat group being called, lining up to get on the plane — or even taking off. I just remember being in the air for much too long. Everyone was anxious about the experience ahead because no one knew what to expect. Most of us were eager to just get to London. Some people chatted and got acquainted, but because our plane left at 7 p.m. for an 11-hour flight we mostly just slept.

Once we touched down and collected our bags, we were ushered into two groups — the homestays and the students staying in apartments — and taken to the places we would call home for the next three months.

I was jet-lagged, but the whole bus ride to the apartment was captivating. The scenery looked so different: brick buildings, flat land and cobblestone streets.  More than once, seeing the empty drivers’ seats as cars sped by startled me — then I realized they drive on the other side of the road.

After about an hour we arrived at our new digs, and were sent off to our rooms one by one. I was one of the first people to go upstairs, and got completely lost on the way. Somehow, I had to go through five different doors to get to my apartment — something I have only recently gotten used to.

Finally, the moment of truth appeared as I swung open my door to find… the smallest apartment known to man. The beds were almost touching, I couldn’t open the closet without hitting my bed, there were two chairs for a one-person desk and the refrigerator was smaller than those in dorm rooms. For a moment I asked what was I getting myself into.

But then I saw it. Through the window: London! Despite the apartment, and the jet lag and the fear, this view was totally calming and I knew after adjusting to the differences that this experience would completely blow my mind.


Editor’s note: Sara Casey boarded a plane in San Francisco and arrived at Heathrow Airport several weeks ago. She is now enrolled in classes as part of the Contra Costa Community College District’s Study Abroad Program. This is the second in an occasional series of columns she is writing from London.