The first time I stepped foot on foreign soil was in 2014. I was about to board a ship in Southampton to begin Semester at Sea. I got off the plane and became completely senseless when I found myself in Heathrow Airport, which is pretty much larger than my hometown. I spent the next few days in London, where I realized that I had a lot to learn about the whole traveling thing.
I have placed several pushpins on the map since then—19 more countries to be exact. As I look back, I can’t help but think of how much has changed since that first stroll through London. My perception of myself is so much stronger. Some of my opinions on my home country have almost flip-flopped. And my worldview? My worldview has had a revolution.
Although I have journaled, blogged, photographed, talked, and mostly pondered on these changes over the last four years, nothing put them in more perspective than two weekends ago, when I explored London for the second time.
Harlaxton took about 140 out of 170 of its students on a trip from our manor in Grantham to the heart of London for a long weekend. I was a courier of the trip, which basically meant that I was just there if the students needed me. So I had a lot of free time to be on my own.
I allowed myself to do a few things that I didn’t get to do the last time. I’ll pause from my life reflection for a moment to give you a bit of tourism.
I went to the Tower of London and explored its grounds. The Tower has a rich history, including being one of the oldest prisons in Europe. I toured its armory, torture chamber, animal wards, and all the rest of the hubbub.
The Tower of London is also where The Crown Jewels are kept. Fun fact: The Crown
Jewels are not just the crowns. They’re made up of 140 different pieces, including spoons, rings, scepters, plates, and a golden punch bowl that is larger than some bathtubs I’ve seen. Believe it or not, you aren’t supposed to take photos of The Crown Jewels. Whoops. I got scolded.
Other highlights of the trip were seeing Abbey Road and the entire journey of finding it. Abbey Road will be getting its own blog post, in fact.
I also managed to snag tickets to Les Miserables at The Queen’s Theatre—and I did so for only £13. I’m not much of a musical guy, but I couldn’t pass that deal up. Turns out that it was a “standing” ticket. So, I literally had to stand for the entire three-hour show. You know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t remember being that captivated by music in my life. I almost cried, actually.
And then there was a lot of walking around the streets of London. I re-visited The Eye and Big Ben, which is now atrociously covered in scaffolding thanks to some reparations.
Now, cue the comparisons to my first time around.
During my first trip to London, I had never been on a subway, hailed a cab, or even walked on my own in a major city.
For round two, I actually never used a cab; I didn’t have to take one because I navigated the subway like a champ. I even led about 25 students to the Tower of London on the first day.
I was very briefly alone while in London in 2014. It led to my getting lost in the middle of the night with no cell phone capabilities, no cash, and no one to help me. I was nervous, out of my element, and mostly scared. This time, I paraded through the streets by myself—head high and happily taking it all in.
I barely knew how to take a good photo in 2014. My blog was super amateur. My writing was… meh. My social media was trash. Little did I know that I would soon be a media specialist for the number one American study abroad program in the world. Thank God for journalism classes.
Last time, I had no idea how to dress. People usually dress nicely in Europe, especially in London. Yet, I walked around in cargo shorts and an Abercrombie t-shirt. I might as well have been holding a sign that said, “I’m an American. Rob me.”
This time, I dressed the part. Sweater, dress pants, boots, a raincoat, and a scarf. I blended in so much that a random tourist came up to me and asked me for directions. He was shocked when “I’m not from here” came out in a Kentucky accent.
It was weird walking those streets. At first I thought it was like deja vu, but then I realized that you have to be familiar with your surroundings for that. Other than a couple of major landmarks, the city wasn’t familiar at all.
But what was familiar was how I felt to be somewhere vastly different from what I know. Although it was different, I felt extremely confident.
I am not the same person I was in 2014. I am a problem solver. I am cultured. I am confident. Mostly, I am a traveler—a person who calls the whole world home and lives to see it.
I am proud of those differences now. Although, I did have to get another picture with this guy, who was standing in the exact spot where I left him in 2014.
I guess some things never change.