England. Here I Am.

Shristi Uprety is an Anthropology and Creative Writing Double Major at Franklin and Marshall College, and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford in England in 2016. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.

It’s 7am and I’m going through Customs, green passport in one hand, blue immigration form in the other.

Occupation? Student.
Purpose of visit? Studying abroad.
Where? Oxford.
Duration? Six months.

I got my acceptance letter six months ago; between visa applications, class registrations, and flight bookings, I’ve had enough time to let it sink in, become reality. Still it feels surreal. I’m tense: muscles taut, stomach clenched, ears still ringing from the plane descent, needlessly worried that there has been a mistake, that I will be sent back to my college in America, or back home to Nepal.

“Welcome to England”, the lady behind the counter says. She smiles.
I breathe.
My watch says its 2am. I reset it and grin. England. Here I am.

It’s 8am and I have three suitcases next to me. I have no idea how the trains here work, how anything works. The express train to Paddington runs every twenty minutes, but I’m stuck on the platform for a full hour, too hesitant to push ahead into the crowd. I watch three trains come and go before I position myself near the doors and board with a single suitcase, returning to shuffle back out and in over the gap to get the rest of my bags.

It’s 9am and I’m in a shiny black cab going straight to IFSA’s designated hotel. London is all around me. I look outside at the winding streets and angular streetlamps, the red buses that I never quite believed in until now. The cab driver says quid and blimey, and I almost clap with joy.

It’s 10am, and I’m free to explore. I head out freshly showered, my hotel’s address scribbled on a piece of paper for when I inevitably get lost. I have a map, strange heavy coins, and no destination. I don’t understand that there aren’t any pedestrian crossing signs, and it takes me forever to cross the first street. I used to be an expert at darting across hectic Nepal roads, dodging barreling trucks and weaving motorcyclists, and even the occasional hostile cow, but three years in America have left their mark, and I shadow a stranger across the street, almost hanging on to his coat.

Over the next couple of days, I’ll attend cultural orientations where I’ll learn about jaywalking, standing on the right in the tube, avoiding eye contact. I’ll be told that Brits love football and chocolate, stores charge for plastic bags, and each Oxford College has its own bar where the beer is subsidized. I’ll go on a walking tour around London, see the London Eye, the Westminster Abbey, the Thames River. I’ll go to my first pub with other students from the IFSA orientation and stay out till midnight, fighting jetlag with strange new pints, collectively dreaming of Oxford.

But all that comes later. Right now, I’ll wander alone, headphones tucked away because I’d rather listen to the rumbling traffic, the flapping flags, strains of music from inside shops and stores, hundreds of boots clacking on the cobblestones, thousands of conversations around me: the sound of London. England. Here I am.

 

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