This week we have a post by a guest blogger. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the ICLC's Travel Writing Competition carries one of our most sought after prizes, a £50 note. The other honor bestowed is the publication of the winning essay. This term's winner is a student who acts, blogs, collects change and, if you're keeping track, is offended by backpacks on wheels. Congratulations Max Lorn-Kraus!
Forty-four empty wine bottles sit in my kitchen. Seventeen empty liquor bottles have a place above the stairs. Countless bags of trash and recycling have been put out for collection and even more one-pence coins collect in a small Thai take-away container, the skimpy plastic buckling under the weight.
I mention this not to flaunt my flat’s drinking habits or our consideration for the environment. I don’t bring up my hoard of change to brag about the few dollars I’ll receive when I finally change the currency back. Instead, these achievements represent my four months spent in London, measured in something other than minutes, hours, and days. Time itself is easy to measure. Experience is not. And though it seems later rather than sooner to realize it, I think the only possible reflection on my time overseas must be measured in experience. But when one hundred and five days becomes twenty-nine shows, twenty-two thousand three hundred and thirty-eight words written for a single class, forty-five Facebook status updates, five Tweets, and four countries, the outcome is inevitably, in the words of a friend, a “Great Collision.” The expectations I had for my time in London meet my actual day-to-day life. Fantasy battles with reality. Like holding a magnifying glass high above a book, then slowly bringing it down, the words are, at first, indistinguishable from one another. I know what it may say, what I want it to say, but not what it really does say. But when, in an instant, the magnifying glass is at exactly the right height above the page, the letters snap into focus, the words become clear, and the true value of each experience is found.
It’s easy to look back and say I wish I had done more. More markets, more food, more exploration into parts of London rarely seen. And not only is it easy, it’s tempting. Like everything that falls into a routine, my time in London has become life. And what is more fun to complain about than life? Taking the Tube to class, I silently swear at tourists in my way. £2.50 for orange juice? Wasn’t it on sale at Tesco for £2.25? I want to visit the National Portrait Gallery or take a trip to Windsor Castle, but I have a paper due and there’s always next weekend. So concerned with what I had to do, I seldom took stock of what I wanted to do. What I can’t do when I touch down in the United States. It was only when a friend studying in Italy visited for a few days that I finally realized that life had simply been going by.
Sitting at dinner, going over where my friend had been and what she had seen of the city, the idea dawned on me to take her to my favorite view in the whole of London. Twenty minutes later we were on the rail of Southbank, staring up at Parliament, the reflection of the Eye distorted by the gentle waves of the Thames. It occurred to me, in one of those flashes of white light, that that specific image simply does not exist anywhere else on earth. Though it seems obvious now, walking home that night was like walking through a brand new city. Passing by shops I had gone by earlier that day, words and colors exploded around me. The accents I had grown so accustomed to seemed almost comical and the notes in my wallet were once again Monopoly money, oddly shaped and seemingly impossible. The wonder of being in another country suddenly took hold and I realized everything I had done so far was enough; I just hadn’t taken the time to appreciate it. The magnifying glass was at the right height and everything was clear. Every show, every word, every Facebook status and Tweet was done out of the United States. Out of my norm. This reality alone made the experiences special, and while doing more would add to the numbers, nothing could take what I had done away.
When I get back home, I will have countless stories to tell, of absurd Tube rides, memorable encounters, and cautionary tales. I will be filled with the knowledge that beauty exists in the sloping architecture of an eight hundred year old church and serenity can be found on a hauntingly empty train. My friends will sigh when I begin sentences with, “This one time in London” and I will show them pictures proudly, sure of the fact that my time here means something to someone else, even if deep down I know it does not. I came here to see things I had never seen before. To try things I had never dared to try. And while I could have gone further, while one can always go further, I went as far as I needed to go. Full circle. I arrived with a sense of wonderment, assimilated proudly, and will leave knowing more than I did, but still open to it all.