I’m officially one week into my six-month study abroad experience. Here’s a little background about my situation: I’m a third-year at the University of South Florida partaking in an exchange program at the University of Exeter, about three hour southwest of London, England. Business marketing is my major and I’m taking some very interesting classes here in the UK.
Global Environmental Issues, International Business, Behavior, Decisions and Markets, and Economics of Management Strategy. Stay tuned for a post addressing the differences between classes in the UK versus the US. From curriculum to the professor and classroom experience, it’s been a pretty cool ride so far.
Now let’s get into the more interesting stuff: life in Exeter. Being here only eight days, I must say I’m on a British high. The culture, the accents, the food, the people, the weather, everything. My only complaint is the HILLS! This Florida-born-and-raised chick is adjusting slowly but surely to these 75-degree angels.
My trip across the pond, as Brits call travel to or from the U.S., went as seamlessly as possible. I took a car to a plane to a bus to a cab. Going from the warm hug of Heathrow International Airport to the chilly breeze of the London air on my walk to the bus station swiped an instant toothy grin across my face.
The bus ride was a three-hour, head-bobbing, mouth agape ugly sleep. Being lost in downloaded Netflix films on the eight-hour plane ride over, that nap was way overdue.
Once dropped off at the Exeter Central Bus Station, I quickly scouted for a store. Tight on luggage space and hard-up against Virgin Atlantic’s 22-kilo weight limit, towels and linens were left back in 954. I needed at least a towel. All I wanted was a shower and some slumber.
Time was my enemy. It was almost 5pm Sunday UK time – witching hour for most English shopkeepers. I stumbled upon a place called John Lewis that was closing in 10 minutes. Lugging my huge luggage, carry-on suitcase and backpack, I scurried through Mr. Lewis’ place, grabbed the first towels I could find, paid up (I exchanged a pocket full of dollars for pounds back in The States.), and hauled everything out of the store as they locked up behind me.
Sweating, I spotted a queue of cabs (a.k.a. “line” for all my fellow Americans reading). Unaware of how cabs work but humbled by my copious common sense, I made my way to the front of the queue. Knocking on the window I asked how much to my flat. The fare sounded more appealing than the struggle of lugging my stuff 35 minutes. I got in the cab and showed up at my door a few minutes later.
Arriving at my studio flat was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a twin bed with a common kitchen and bathroom to share with my floor. Imagine my shock when I walked in to find a double bed, kitchen and bathroom – all within my little room. I relish my privacy, but don’t need common facilities to encourage mingling with others. This is the perfect set-up for me.
That night was pretty uneventful. I met a few nice locals who live on my floor. They gave me the lowdown on the campus environment and themselves. They had a dinner to get to so we quickly gave goodbyes for the night.
The shower that followed was incredible; I felt I was washing away almost 18 hours of transAtlantic transit grime. The sleep, however, could’ve been better. My bed was made up of my travel pillow for my head and my coats as blankets. My mission for Day 2 was clear: The Search for Bedding.
The next morning was unlike any other first day of classes. Instead of lectures from new professors, international exchange students had orientations and meet-n-greets with new peeps. A little Zoe-background here: Whenever I travel abroad to new places, internships, excursions, study programs like Exeter – I absolutely, positively know I’m not going to meet anyone or make any friends. And I absolutely, positively meet hordes of folks as friendly as I am.
Two weeks at Exeter, those I was fortunate enough to encounter that day are still the people I surround myself with today. Note to Zoe: Cross that “I won’t meet people” dread off my list of travel concerns.
The highlight of my first full day was the 25-minute trek into town for – wait for it – bedding! Yup, your girl was determined to sleep SOUNDLY that night.
My first mistake was underestimating the walk compared to the amount I was purchasing. Call me an enthusiastic home-goods shopper. I had around four bags full of “necessities.” I walked around 10 minutes before one of my bags broke – along with my spirit. Doubling back about five minutes to the cab queue, I made the executive decision that, once again, the number the cab driver told me sounded much better than walking 20 more minutes, up hill, trying to manage my plethora of stuff.
In almost two weeks I’ve only taken those two cabs. I’ve learned my lesson and now take multiple trips into town and only buy what I can handle. To paraphrase Aladdin’s all-powerful Genie, “She can be taught!” Besides, it’s much more rewarding to walk a city’s streets than to watch them pass by through a cabbie’s window.
The past week has been one full of ups, downs, amazing scenes, incredible people, nights out, delicious food and drink and, best of all, smiles. Exeter has welcomed this foreigner with open arms. And she is hugging back!