16 May 2011

The Hardest Part of Ending is Starting All Again

Less than 24 hours to go before I make the 3000 mile journey back to the US. (Such a figure would probably be more impressive if I were making the journey in, say, a covered wagon as opposed to a British Airways plane.) As I sit here in my tiny room, surrounded by my piles of luggage, I can't help but reflect on the year that I've spent here. Indeed, it has been almost a year since I moved to the UK to spend the summer in my favorite place, Edinburgh, working for the Dept. of State. I moved to London in September and here I have remained ever since. And now it is time to say my goodbyes for the last time, at least for the foreseeable future.

Will I miss the UK?

Yes and no.

It has been a challenging year for me, both academically and personally. Academics-wise, King's (and the UK higher educational system in general) is more rigorous than my undergrad university was. I was forced to stretch my abilities further than ever before just to make ends meet here. I expected this, of course, having studied previously in Oxford and Edinburgh, but I was surprised by just how difficult KCL turned out to be. It was the most challenging (and stressful) educational experience that I've had in the UK. (Wish I could say that it was over but, alas, I still have a dissertation to write over the summer. But I am going to de-stress for a week or so before even attempting to tackle that.)

Personally, life changed too. My relationship ended as a result of my time abroad. I lost contact with friends. A close friend fell ill and almost died and another was killed in a tragic car accident. I was hit by a car. My grandmother was (and is) in hospice. I earned 'merits' on my coursework. I competed in the British Universities & Colleges Cross Country Championships for the University of London. I ran a marathon.

I will not miss the buses, the masses on Oxford street, the weekly shootings and murders that occur here in Southwark. I will not miss having to dodge tourists whilst running. I won't miss the apathy that one develops from living in a large, impersonal city. (I have the same complaint about DC). Most importantly, I won't miss the ridiculous exchange rate (currently $1.65 to the pound) which means that my Diet Coke addiction habit is too expensive to rationally justify. (I still indulge anyway. If it is my consumption of aspartame that ultimately kills me, so be it.)

 Still, I will miss the people, for it is the individuals that I have met and the friends I've made that have truly made this a worthwhile experience.I will miss heading out to random parks in London to run ridiculously muddy/hilly/snowy races with the KCL cross country team. I can guarantee that I won't be running '8-10 miles' on a Wednesday or receiving the same caliber of nutritional advice as that I received from Des - :) . I'll miss walking over the Millennium Bridge as the sun sets and being able to see St. Paul's Cathedral on the north bank, Shakespeare's Globe on the south, and the Tower of London to the east. I'll miss running over Tower Bridge with the early morning commuters and seeing the sun rise over the Thames. And I'll miss buying my 'veg' at Elsey & Brent's in Borough Market (who knew me by name due to my frequent visits there). I won't get these same experiences back in Maryland. (Running over the small Bollman Truss Bridge in Savage doesn't quite generate the same thrill as Tower Bridge, I'm afraid.)

Despite this, it is time to return to the US. They say that you never can fully appreciate what you have until you no longer possess it. I find that the same holds true in regards to one's opinion about one's country. I've always been aware of the US's faults and, believe me, I still have my apprehensions in returning to a country where Sarah Palin is taken seriously as a politician and the Tea Party has a following. In the past, I couldn't wait to leave Maryland for somewhere new. And yet my experiences this past year have shown me that the US and Maryland have their merits. I look back fondly on my time at St. Mary's College now that I have my experience at King's to compare it to. Oddly enough, I find myself eager to return to Howard County and experience a more permanent lifestyle for a change. Perhaps this is simply because I've matured. Or perhaps it is because the personal costs of living abroad have become all too evident over the course of the past year. As to which it is, I am not sure. All I know is that I am entering a new chapter of life, which is both exciting and terrifying.

Either way, if I get 'homesick' for London I can always pop down to Harris Teeters market in Fulton and grab a box of Weetabix or a can of Heinz beans.Or watch Are You Being Served? or Father Ted on television. And, of course, there is always my graduation in January and the London Marathon in April that might bring me back...

To my team-mates, course mates, friends, family, blog readers, and any other category of individual that I may have omitted: thanks for supporting me, putting up with my ridiculousness, and reading this blog over the past year. It's been a hell of an experience and one that I will never forget.
Veronica and me at CMRS, Oxford in March when we annoyed caught up with Dr. Philpott and generally were creepers in St. Michael's Hall. Definitely freaked out a few undergrads when burst into the JCR and began taking pictures.

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